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Undercover (Oh!) Brother: Bitter Balcony wiretaps The Informant!


The Informant!

Who would think that in times like these, corporate crime could provide a chuckle? Steven Soderbergh gives it a go in “The Informant!,” a comedy of errors about the true story of whistle-blower Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon). Whitacre was a biochemist who in the early ‘90s collaborated with the FBI on the price-fixing investigation against ADM, the corporation in charge of the production of corn syrup among other operations.

Whitacre is a devoted family guy who hesitantly puts his livelihood on the line to expose ADM for their illegal acts. FBI agents Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Herndon (Joel McHale) are pumped to have a key witness at their disposal, but little do they know that dealing with Whitacre might be more trouble than what its worth. Whitacre is a buffoon in a three-piece suit who seems unaware of the severity of the situation he's involved in. For him, spying is like being James Bond, as he refers himself as "0014", since he's twice as cool as 007.

He narrates his wiretapped recordings with information the FBI already has and stares clumsily at the hidden surveillance camera in the conference room where the illicit deeds are conducted, much to the shock and frustration of the G-men. Think of Shepard and Herndon as Dreyfus trying to handle Clouseau's stupidity minus the bumps and bruises. Unfortunately for the FBI guys, this is far from the worst for them as Whitacre's own secrets lead to a tailspin involving the media and the law so outrageous and crazy that it would be an American Tragedy if not for the ridiculousness of it all.

“The Informant” is based on the nonfiction novel by Kurt Eichenwald, and when I glimpsed at the book, it runs about 500-plus pages, so the assumption that the author was going for a serious, detailed report is a fair one. But in the last 10 years or so with the classic “The Insider,” “A Civil Action,” “Michael Clayton” and Soderbergh's own “Erin Brockovich,” Big Business felony in film has taken a no-nonsense direction, which is to be expected.

To find humor in this subject matter isn’t easy, but Soderbergh manages to make this movie a character study about a bipolar, delusional liar who catches prominent, well-skilled people off-guard with jaw-dropping statements and decisions. That a man like Whitacre could embarrass one of the world's best investigation bureaus is too inconceivable not to allow some leeway for jest.

Matt Damon does method by growing a gut and a shabby mustache, turning himself from handsome leading man to a modest-looking white-collar employee. His stumbling persona has some similarities to Linus, the naive robber from the “Ocean's” series.

However, Damon's comedic timing shines even more as the one superstar in the cast, as he goes from bewildered witness to an even more bewildered suspect as casually as Mr. Magoo keeps driving through red lights. Another attribute to Damon's interpretation is how the filmmakers cast actual comedians (Joel McHale, Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt) and places them in the straight-men roles. Damon matches these funny men at their own game comfortably while they add seriousness just as easily.

It is also good to see Scott Bakula’s quantum leap into a decent film for a change; I guess there are no more “Major League” sequels in the works. Melanie Lynskey adds loyalty and warmth as Ginger, Whitacre's supporting and loving midwestern wife.

“The Informant!” has traces of Soderbergh's “Schizopolis,” a semi-biographical movie based on Soderbergh's relationship with his ex-spouse. Both movies make a satire of society's rules of engagement and how odd it can be to deal with people who step outside the conventional patterns of behavior. “Schizopolis,” for its part, is very experimental and bizarre, perhaps more introspective for Soderbergh. With “The Informant!,” those themes are handled more linear and relaxed on a bigger stage. “The Informant!” is worth a look for adding goofball humor to preposterous truths.



Official website:

The Informant!


Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Kurt Eichenwald(book)
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey

Source of the Bitter: John Rojas

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