The Informant! Review: An Interesting Script and Cast Without Interesting Direction

The Informant

It seems that director Steven Soderbergh has been stretching himself rather thin as of late. Just this year he has released three films, including his bland and trite four hour inaccurate epic Che and the intimate and rather sensually engaging The Girlfriend Experience. Soderbergh’s latest release, The Informant!, basically stands right in the middle of his best and worst qualities. Every Soderbergh film usually has a well written plot, even considering his baffling simplistic takes on the Oceans remake, but also fails to provide a sufficient and even interesting visual atmosphere to his films. What occurs with The Informant is a well written script that is more humorous in circumstance rather than delivery, getting rid of the opportunity to fully utilize an array of stand up and television comedians, such as Tom Wilson, Patton Oswalt, and Tony Hale. The two unfortunate realizations one should have when contemplating the bland visual presentation of The Informant is that Soderbergh is beyond overrated as a visual storyteller always negating on accentuating his films with appropriate framing or camera use by falling back on typical camera tricks and the second is that Matt Damon is another overrated actor whose best comedic scenarios are mostly circumstantial based on the scripts development rather than his own unique envelopment of the character. Overall the film is an enjoyable piece to reflect on despite its various credibility flaws and uninteresting use of technical achievements and an array of interesting cast choices.

The Informant is a whistleblower tale with a twist based on the cooperation of Mark Whitacre with the FBI in reporting an international scheme to price fix corn. While this sounds beyond serious and should take that form when addressing such an illegal activity, the film follows Mark who is by far incompetent to be the informant for the government. His chronic lying and narcissistic attitude towards his own accomplishments should already be a clue as to how this whole situation unfolds based on a man who is only looking out for himself. Rather than criticize the nature of business, a topic that shouldn’t be held passed Soderbergh, the film actually embodies a more cynical message based on human nature and how our only incentive for doing anything is coincided with the mantra me, myself, and I. Where the script introduces an interesting layer that is never fully embraced is the psychological nature of the character Mark Whitacre. The narration is a key indicator on Mark’s thought process, which is self-involved, sporadic, and ambitious, yet the film’s technical work never truly gives us a subjective interpretation of Mark’s psyche. However, as whistle blower stories go, this is an interesting script despite Michael Mann’s The Insider being one of the best developed and delivered tales on exposing the corrupt.

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The comedic nature of the film does have an accentuation mark with the cinematography, which is light in tone and at times has an orange tint, which makes for a more relaxing mood and does compliment the direction of the story. But the core to all of the comedic line delivery and situational comedy is directly linked to Scott Z. Burn’s screenplay. Because Mark is a chronic liar each and every poor decision he makes leads to greater consequences, all of which end up being more humorous in development rather than how it’s revealed to us. Although Matt Damon’s timid line delivery at times can be funny it is overplayed at various points throughout the film and tends to get tiring by the last 20 or so minutes of the film. Without a tightly written script that was able to embrace strengths linked to character perception versus reality and individual incentive versus collective consequence than the film would have fallen flat and not have been enjoyable at all due to a message that would have been non-existent.

An eclectic cast of comedic actors truly brings a sense of charm the film definitely needed especially since it deals with various illegal decision making and individual wrong doing. Matt Damon does indeed have charm, something that aids him throughout the film, and tugs the film along more with that charm than his talent for being a great actor. Despite hearing lie after lie and seeing consequence after consequence, the audience will most likely keep rooting for this unlikely protagonist. But the film’s more interesting moments are layered with a cast of recognizable faces if not their names. An impressive performance from the Soup’s Joel McHale as one of the FBI agents is by far one of the more interesting roles while Arrested Developments Tony Hale as a lawyer also contributes some comedic subtlety. But what is also an interesting dynamic to the film is seeing these various comedic actors take a more subdued approach to their characters, including Patton Oswalt, who is known for eccentric performances in The King of Queens or Reno 911!

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While The Informant doesn’t embrace a truly artistic fashion to its subjective character’s perception it does embrace a subtle comedic delivery that is understandably charming and enjoyable. Matt Damon can conceivably be nominated for such a typically befuddled performance but his personality as a character does aid the film as a whole while the other cast members take the more difficult approach to aiding the script’s more subtly comedic dialogue moments. Compared to most comedies nowadays, where most take a truly exaggerated atmosphere and combine them with character stereotypes, it’s refreshing to see an attempt at a situational comedy based on a cause and effect from a particular character’s choices. While it is by far from being Soderbegh’s best film it is also by far from being his worst, it integrates aspects of his strengths, choice of story, charm, and dealing with actors, and also reminds us of his weaknesses, lack of artistic and technical inventiveness when relating to its more integral psychological aspects. This will be a different yet better film choice for the month of September to enjoy rather than most of the studio’s more repulsive blockbusters invading the theaters this month.

Grade: B-

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