In 1992 Mark Whitacre, the President of Bio-Product division of ADM (powerful Fortune 500 company), became the highest ranking executive EVER to turn whistle blower. For three years he helped the FBI gather evidence of a multinational conspiracy to control the price of lysine. As a result, US government collected hundreds of millions of dollars in fines from ADM and foreign corporations, followed by prison sentences for three executives. These are events in real life as well as the movie. However, according to the opening credits, the film is not intended as a documentary and does depart from real life facts... The final, cheeky line of the prologue: "So there!", gives us a hint that, though the topic and the consequences suffered by many in this story are somber, what we are about to see is meant to amuse and entertain, as well as educate...
As promised, the chuckles do come often, but their source is not your typical one liners. Matt Damon is Whitacre, an inspired choice for the role. His plump, mustachioed and toupeed character comes across so harmless and ordinary you never question why his actions go undetected; even as his concealed recording equipment loudly malfunctions during a covert multinational executive meeting! You laugh at the bewilderment of FBI agents and the DA's office as they are led by the nose by Whitacre's increasingly outlandish antics. One could say "The Informant!" has the educational quality of an Aesop's fable: blinded by their desire to swallow a tasty morsel (ADM), the agents cross their fingers and fail to run even the most basic checks on their informant; checks that would immediately reveal inconsistencies in his stories (such as the true nature of his parentage, for example).
The film is not perfect. Based on the way it was being advertised, I expected something in the same category as "The Pink Panther". In reality, one would not be wrong to describe it as a combination of "A Beautiful Mind", "The Insider", and "The Duck Soup" (Marx Brothers). Sadly, "The Informant!" never quite becomes as touching, thrilling and funny as those films were, respectively. The makers allow it to drag on a bit in the second half as Whitacre's behaviour becomes absurd. The logical explanation for it all arrives only after our initial keen interest has already begun to dissipate. I also hear some grumblings about the film's muted lighting. Since most of the action takes place in offices and hotels, I believe the lighting is true to reality. Anyone who has spent at least one work day in a cubicle, understands how oppressive that atmosphere can be. Despite these possible faults, Whitacre's story and Damon's performance make "The Informant!" worthy of at least one theater trip. Depending on your personal approach, you will see a funny thriller or... a thrilling comedy. Either way, expect to be entertained!
PS: BRAVO! to the filmmakers for sticking to a relatively modest budget ($21 mil)! I am sick of paying to see worthless films with budgets that could bankrupt the economy of a small country.
24 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A dark comedy about human foibles...and corn.Feb. 17 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Having grown up just a few miles from where the events of THE INFORMANT! took place (though I was just a kid at the time), I may be rather partial to the film; after all, Matt Damon and much of the supporting cast has the personality down pat, with a few aside-jokes that definitely capture the atmosphere of East-Central Illinois. But you don't have to be from here to appreciate the film's humor; you just have to be patient.
Why? Because THE INFORMANT is a slow burner. It's the story of Mark Whitacre, who decides to blow the lid on some illegal doings at the corn-processing plant where he works. Whitacre, however, is anything but the ideal witness--but it takes about two-thirds of the movie to find that out. Kudus to Joel McHale and Scott Bakula as the FBI agents in charge of Whitacre's case, and Soderbergh for actually making a movie of this; and a tip-of-the-hat to Matt Damon, who turns in a nuanced performance. But the character doesn't really build until the third act, which is the when the movie turns from humor to poignancy, and we realize the real tale here.
The thing is, it's just hard to forgive THE INFORMANT its slow build-up. Real hard. It's worth the effort; a lot of the humor is subtle, and the film progressively gets darker, until you realize this isn't a feel-good comedy after all. But it takes so long getting there, a large part of the audience is bound to stop caring. Thus, THE INFORMANT! is for patient fans of comedy (of which there are painfully few today). If nothing else, see it for Damon's spot-on performance; he and Bakula especially are taking this film and running with it, for better or worse (mainly better).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Spare us Matt Damon's George Clooney impressionsJan. 2 2011
E. (Harry) Hernandez
- Published on Amazon.com
THE INFORMANT! (2008-2009) was a bit of a thrill for me because it co-starred my favorite Missourian, Scott Bakula as FBI Special Agent Brian Shepard, and because it was filmed in Dekalb, Illinois - not far afield from my own home. Despite the somewhat odious Matt Damon in the starring role, I had to see this movie.
It did not disappoint. Weirdo Mark Whitacre (Damon in his best Clooney rip-off despite the 30 LBS. he added to his poor self) is a shmuck who works for an agricultural/farming corporation of which subject I know so little, he might as well have been in a panty hose factory. He contacts the FBI (poor Bakula being shunted into what is basically a walk-on role) - he wants them to investigate price-fixing (on farmers' chemicals I guess), insider trading and so forth.
He wears a wire, years pass (the time span is 1992 to 2002), and the FBI has its case. Or does it? Whitacre turns out to be the conman of the millennium, telling lie after lie until even the viewer gets a migraine. Whitacre, it turns out, has masterminded everything, from massive embezzlement (it's funny how the amount keeps going up every time it's mentioned) to the very price-fixing and insider trading that are being investigated. He has masterminded the manipulation of the corporation he works for AND the poor FBI. It takes a dozen lawyers to ferret him out in the end.
If this was a true story, God help us all!
Watching Bakula's screen time was a joy. He is wonderful in roles like these, and I am glad to see he's as busy as a beaver. When his Agent Shepard (a play on the "good shepherd", get it?) starts to have a meltdown after he learns of Whitacre's treachery, it is priceless. Shepard had been Whitacre's staunchest supporter. Whitacre ultimately repays Shepard by claiming Shepard hit him with an attaché case while torturing him.
This is the type of slick black comedy that would have played 100% better with someone like William H. Macy or yes, even George Clooney, at the helm. Damon holds his own, but as I said, I don't like him enough to trust his performance at all. Perhaps that is why he was given this role. In any case, Damon is the real reason this thing sort of belly-flopped at the box office ... but it deserves a sort of cult following.
Clancy Brown is delightful as corporate suit bad guy Aubrey Daniel - and it reminds me of his terrific role in another Illinois-set film, the HBO film NORMAL (2003, as Case-IH foreman Frank), which got Tom Wilkinson eternal fame in America. Aside from Bakula and Clancy, no other players here grabbed my attention, but that is a plus with this type of movie.
The laughs are never-ending, and so is the tension - it is a real suspense film, and with all the humor I would think Hitchcock might have loved a project like this. Furthermore, it is a film that makes us ask, What constitutes a little white lie as opposed to a con artist's life? How much lying is too much? How much can one human being lie in a few years' time? - the answers are all here.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Quirky Can Be Your FriendNov. 16 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Ever in the mood for some decidedly offbeat entertainment? Sure; we all are, from time to time. How many shoot-'em-ups and car chases and rom-coms can we take to begin with? For an eccentric changeup I recommend the quirky THE INFORMANT!, a (slightly) dark comedy about an "Aw shucks" nerd who helps bring down an international price-fixing cabal (on food derivatives, for cryin' out loud). Based on a true story, this movie quietly entertains while giving the viewer a sound dose of corn pone (pun intended).
THE INFORMANT! is carried delightfully on the pudgy shoulders of Matt Damon, playing ADM junior exec Mark Whitacre. Good ol' Mark looks like someone you would rub elbows with at an ice cream social, and his sophomoric view of the corporate world is matched only by his cluelessness. Cooperating with the FBI (he gets wired) he gathers evidence to put his coworkers away. . .then expects his employer to reward him for his efforts. And Damon does all of this with a quirky, "gee willickers!" delivery that had me in stitches; as the movie grows even darker--with Whitacre growing ever more delusional--the jaw-dropping, disbelieving looks of his FBI cohorts (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) are priceless. Four stars instead of five, due to needless meandering; THE INFORMANT! indeed proves that quirky can be good for you. --D. Mikels, Author, The Reckoning
20 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A merry-go-round instead of a roller-coasterApril 4 2010
Douglas B. Moran
- Published on Amazon.com
Intro: This is a review of the movie as an experience. Look elsewhere if you want an overview of the story, or how well the movie reflects actual events and people.
For those who would be satisfied with a movie that was simply a collection of goofy and absurdist scenes, I expect that the pacing here is much to slow to be satisfying, although in the second half it becomes noticeably less slow.
For those expecting more, the basic problem here is with how the lead character Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is portrayed. It is immediately reminiscent of the William H Macy character in Fargo: A doofus in over his head who is flailing about. However, in Fargo there was a progression to that state--here it starts at that point and doesn't change much.
Even without the Fargo baggage, the Whitacre character is too big a goof to be sympathetic or funny. My first impression was that he was an incompetent bottom level manager. When he was identified as a top manager, I couldn't help but think of him as a fraud, thereby undermining everything that was to come. In addition to his being a fraud within the movie, it was a fraud on the audience: Such a personality would never have gotten a PhD (from Cornell), much less risen so high in a major corporation (most people forced to work with such a person would be screaming and throwing things at him before the end of the first day).
The core of the movie's story is the revelation of a series of deceptions and lies. The typical dramatic treatment, whether serious or humorous, is akin to a roller-coaster: It elevates your confidence that you know what is happening, then suddenly puts you into free fall, adding twists and turns to increase your disorientation. You start to climb out of that, only to be hit by additional drops. This movie has no such drama: It just goes gently and slowly round and round, the tone being closer to enumerating the lies than to revealing them. Perhaps Whitacre was intended to be played by an improvisational comic who was expected to fill in such texture?
As a movie, the significant story elements should have been _seen_ and not merely commented on by characters. For example, Whitacre is presented as being maniac-depressive (bipolar), but we never _see_ that roller-coaster of emotions--the portrayal is very flat. At the very end, statements of various characters provide some evidence of this (Nigerian scam, compulsive over-consumption). Additionally, when part of the story is whether his underlying mental problems were triggered or exacerbated by his role as an informant, how could they not show this, but simply comment on it at the end?
The script has characters _saying_ that Whitacre is brilliant, but I remember only a couple of scenes where he _appeared_ even mildly clever.
We are _told_ that even after all the revelations of Whitacre's crimes and lying that some of the Feds (FBI and prosecutors) strongly advocated clemency for him, but from the movie, I couldn't guess why. And during the extended investigation, there is no sense of the passage of time--other than dates being flashed on the screen. Nor do we _see_ the stresses on Whitacre: The script trivializes his risks and sacrifices by consigning them to asides in the disconnected goofy scenes that constitute this movie.
This movie seems to have been intended to be both funny and interesting, but is neither.