One of the main sticking points to the Academy Awards is that they honor drama over comedy nearly 100% of the time. 2009 featured two brilliant comedic performances from established actors, as well as two great dramatic performances. Woody Harrelson was the first, elevating Zombieland to first rate material yet earning an Oscar nomination for The Messenger. The other came from Matt Damon in The Informant!.
Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, a whistleblower who gave the FBI one of the biggest price-fixing scandals in modern history. The amusing thing is that while all of this was happening, Whitacre was also in the middle of an embezzling scheme that would land him more time in prison then anyone involved in the price-fixing. How this all went down is the subject of the film, Steven Soderbergh’s more commercial outing of the year after The Girlfriend Experience. The film focuses on Whitacre’s ever-evolving web of lies and the FBI agent (Scott Bakula) who would be the one coordinating the case against him and against Con-Agra (his employer).
It’s an interesting premise that would make for great dramatic material but Soderbergh does something rather unexpected: make it a comedy. This was one of the funnier films of 2009 because Soderbergh plays everything that happens, which did happen in real life (with dramatic license obviously taken to some events), and playing them as a farce of epic proportions. An interesting style choice from Soderbergh, known as a director willing to take massive risks behind the camera, it pays off in spades because he’s armed with two things: a legitimately funny script and a note perfect performance from its headlining actor.
Soderbergh, who worked with Damon on the Ocean series, knows exactly Damon’s comic timing and is able to exploit it fully. Damon may be better known for headlining the Bourne franchise as an action hero but he’s always had deft comic timing when given the proper material. As Whitacre, donning a wig with a bit of a potbelly, Damon is nearly unrecognizable at first with an awful mustache as well. Damon’s comedic range, meshed with some top notch twists and turns, provides a fascinating look at a man caught up in two forms of deception trying to find a way out that gets him off scot-free.
It’s a good film but Soderbergh never crosses that line and becomes a comedic masterpiece. There’s enough parts that don’t work to keep it from becoming brilliant; it remains a good film but not a great one.
Presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby digital surround, The Informant! has a great transfer and a great presentation.
Deleted Scenes are the DVD’s only extra and wouldn’t have added much back into the film.
The Informant! is a film screaming for a big, two disc edition that focuses on one of the biggest whistleblowers of our time. Instead we get a single disc with minimal extras. With so much to look at here, especially in an age of corporate malfeasance amidst an economic downturn, that to see a film like this without anything substantive beyond the film is disappointing.
Warner Bros. presents The Informant!. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula Written by: Scott Z Burns based on the novel “The Informant” by Kurt Eichenwald. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: February 23, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.