THE INFORMANT! is perhaps the most enjoyable film that Steven Soderbergh has ever made. It’s clever and accomplished but wears its high production values lightly. It’s a story as playful and charming and roguish as its protagonist, Mark Whitacre, a man that we laugh at while laughing with. Whitacre was a successful executive at a corn-products manufacturer with a somewhat Walter Mitty-ish hold on the truth. Who knows why he embezzled money? He was making a good living after all. And worse still, if you were embezzling money, would you really make up stories of corporate espionage, attracting the attention of the FBI? Even more ludicrously, would you become an FBI insider, making tapes for the FBI indicting your firm of an international price-fixing conspiracy? Whitacre did all this and more. In his own mind he was a character in a John Grisham or Michael Crichton novel, and the tongue-in-cheek 70s serial score hints at the fact that this is a man who really is living in a world inspired by popular culture. He’s a hero in his own mind, much like the other real life lost soul Josh Harris in Ondi Timoner’s documentary WE LIVE IN PUBLIC. Soderbergh’s movie is a success because it knows just what balance between mockery and empathy to sustain, and because Matt Damon is superb in making this rather bizarre and exasperating guy likeable. After all, as Soderbergh chooses to tell it, we spend the entire movie inside Whitacre’s head, listening to his banal, bizarre stream of consciousness. This device could’ve been intensely irritating and it’s credit to the script and Damon that in fact, it’s very funny and also rather touching. It reminded me a bit of his performance as Tom Ripley - an altogether more sinister character - but again, someone who has a tenuous grasp on reality. You spend the movie knowing Ripley is a psychopath but still, the tragedy of his self-created prison is touching. THE INSIDER! is not an entire success, however, The momentum and sheer fun of the first half, as we watch Whitacre live out his dream as an FBI spy, fade as we enter the second half, and the lies are exposed. I felt it could’ve been trimmed down to a neat and zippy 90 minutes. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the film and was delighted to have finally found a Soderbergh film to admire after a string of over-inflated pretentious flicks that left me cold.
THE INFORMANT! played Venice and Toronto 2009. It opened in September in Canada, Italy, the USA, Spain and France and in October in Greece, Brazil, Sweden, New Zealand and South Africa. It opens later this month in Finland, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Iceland and Norway. It opens on November 5th in the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and the Ukraine. It opens on November 20th in Belgium, Slovakia, Lithuania, and the UK. It opens on November 27th in Estonia and on December 3rd in Australia.