The Informant!

Strange but not totally unsuccessful comedy-drama, based on a true story, about Mark Whitacre (a paunchy and mustachioed Matt Damon), a chipper executive at agricultural corporation Archer Daniels Midland, who somewhat inexplicably goes to the FBI to report on the company's illegal price fixing for their corn products.

Although the story mostly takes place between 1992 and 1997, Soderbergh shoots the film flatly, almost like a 1960s studio movie (as usual, he doubles as cinematographer, here using the stage name "Peter Andrews"), then goes even further out by hiring legendary '70s composer Marvin Hamlisch for a score that redefines "jaunty". Hamlisch's score, for many, will be the best thing about The Informant!, and the dude might even nab an Oscar nomination for it. But some viewers will not be able to reconcile the extremely light comic tone of the music with the definitely weird but only intermittently funny goings-on.

It's a bit hard to talk about why I ultimately liked this movie without revealing the big plot twist. I will say this: For the first hour or so, the story is actually pretty dull, following the perky Whitacre as he bumbles through various wiretapping scenarios and forges a sort of friendship with his main FBI contact (Scott Bakula). Once it becomes clear that, shall we say, Mark Whitacre has some serious issues, the whole film starts making sense. So in short, if you see The Informant! you'll need to stick with it all the way through in order to get what's going on. (Damon's loopy, stream-of-consciousness voiceover throughout the film provides clues as to his character's mental state.)

Of course I can't end this review without a few words about the casting of Foreign Correspondents/Claustrophobia star Melanie Lynskey as Whitacre's wife Ginger. It's her largest role in an American feature not directed by me (a self-serving statement, but true), so it's nice to see her get a break. Her presence may have distracted me only because I have spent so many hours in editing rooms going over every nuance of her work in my films. Thus, watching her here took me out of the story just as much as Hamlisch's music did. I'm sure most people will find her performance capable.

Peppering his cast with cameos from popular comics (including Tom "Biff" Wilson, Joel McHale, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, even Tom Smothers), using a wacky disco font for the titles, and especially adding that exclamation point to his title, Soderbergh further suggests that the film is a spoof of movies like The Insider. Is it good? It's all right. Hilarious? Not really. Interesting? To a degree. Over all, I'd give it a soft recommendation. But it will have its fans.