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The Informant! (2009)

A movie directed by Steven Soderbergh

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And the Moral of the Story Is ...

  • Mar 15, 2010
... that mega-corporations are not on YOUR side. Their purpose is to "redistribute wealth", from your wallet to their coffers, and not so freely to share-holders as to upper-level management. An alternative moral might be that the folk who manage mega-corporations are just as likely to be megalomaniacs and/or sociopaths as anybody else... as any elected politician, for instance... and just as likely NOT to be as smart as they think they are. Specifically, the tale told in the film "The Informant" exposes the arrogant greed and criminal indifference to the public of a very real, very large American corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, the giant of producers of corn products. The fate of one rather bizarre real-life character ... Mark Whitacre, played to the hilt by Matt Damon... should not completely distract the viewer from noting that ADM was proven guilty of price-fixing, illegal accounting practices, and other forms of "gouging the public", for which enormous fines were imposed and several executives sentenced to brief prison terms. Now, fining a corporation that is publicly "owned" by stockholders could be considered self-abuse, no better than an insidious form of taxation since you can be sure that the fine will be recouped from the public through the private industry form of taxation called "higher prices". So, however you write the script, it IS obvious that ADM and other mega-corporations consider themselves above the law, and operate accordingly whenever they can.

But meanwhile, back at the mansion... back at the "entertainment", that is ... this Mark Whitacre is a very weird dude. He's legendary as the "highest ranking corporate whistle-blower" in American business history. You can read about him on wikipedia. His real-life story is so well known that I can't consider telling it as "spoiling" the movie ending. In both real life and in this film, Whitacre cooperates with the FBI in gathering evidence of ADM's price-fixing, over the course of several years. Whitacre's motives are another matter, and that's where the film becomes "art" rather than documentary. In real life, ADM fights back, with the outcome that Whitacre's own fiscal malfeasance is revealed. Whitacre ends up "in hot water".

The film Whitacre is either unfathomably foolish or mentally imbalanced. Matt Damon plays him as the former slowly evolving toward the latter. At first the man seems strangely naive for someone in such a position. He describes himself as a scientist befuddled by the 'culture' of management. He certainly appears well-meaning, a sweet family man out of his depth among hard-headed bosses, a manatee swimming with sharks. Rugged Matt Damon deliberately gained some thirty pounds of suet for the role, and he walks/talks/stands like a podgy nerd. This sympathetic man of integrity, however, slowly lies himself into trouble. In fact, he can't control his mouth. Is he a pathological liar? Or is he so sure of his own charm and plausibility that he can't be bothered to distinguish between truth and lies? The film script raises the possibility that he suffers from a "bipolar" disorder, but that's utterly unconvincing, given Damon's portrayal. Damon's Whitacre shows none of the diagnostic signs of being bipolar. His affect and his actions would be more characteristic of a sociopathic personality disorder, for which pharmaceutical psychiatry has no effective treatment. In any case, he's not a guy to be trusted. Mild and disarmingly boyish as he is, he's actually a crook, as greedy and egocentric as any mobster but operating within the culture of corporate capitalism. It's not ethical standards that separate the ADM portrayed in this film from the usual Hollywood crime syndicate; it's the size of the operation. One might well ask whether "Hollywood" is presenting a fair picture of corporate America or a prejudicial distortion. In fact, one ought to ask that question, I think. But perhaps, as usual, I will be chided for trying to find something meaningful in a mere entertainment.

Damon's portrayal of Whitacre is the entertainment here, the whole point of "The Informant". The film is not as funny, in my opinion, as the promotion claims. It starts slowly; the first half-hour could fairly be called dull. Then, as Whitacre's 'identity' starts to tangle and snag like snarled fishing line, the story becomes perversely fascinating. You started by feeling anxiously protective of that fresh-faced babe-in-the-woods, and you slowly come to realize that you've been "had" by him, bamboozled, conned just as badly as the FBI agents who trusted him. By the end of the film, it's only his loyal, gullible wife who believes in him.

The real Mark Whitacre is the subject of ongoing controversy in the USA, with some people maintaining that he was a genuine hero who got a bad rap from the big bad government, while others regard him as another example of the corruption of wealth. Hey, I get to avoid a "spoiler" after all, by not choosing which image the film portrays!

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More The Informant! (2009) reviews
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2011
Sauntering into the Coens' territory, Soderbergh drains nearly all the intrigue and black humor from the true story that Kurt Eichenwald masterfully brought to print. Add "farce" to the ever-lengthening list of modes that America's most inexplicably successful filmmaker doesn't understand.  No major picture that's so amateurishly photographed should be excused.
review by . February 27, 2010
THE INFORMANT! has an exclamation point after the title for a good reason - it suggests that even the writers and actors as well as the usually superb Steven Soderbergh had a tough time figuring out how to make this story into an entertaining while quite implausible movie. Though based on a true story the movie is basically a running monologue by the hyperkinetic Matt Damon in a role that suits him not at all. At moments it seems like an outrageous comedy, then at others it appears as yet another …
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Göran ()
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Steven Soderbergh'sThe Informant!--like the director's one-two Oscar® punch,Erin BrockovichandTraffic--is an energetic exposé of corporate/criminal chicanery with wide-ranging implications for life in these United States. Not so much like those movies, it plays as hyper-caffeinated comedy. At its center is Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a biochemist and junior executive at agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland who, in 1992, began feeding the FBI evidence of ADM's involvement in price fixing. Mark's motive for doing so is elusive, sometimes self-contradictory, and subject to mutation at any moment. To describe him as bipolar would be akin to finding the Marx Brothers somewhat zany. His Fed handlers, along with the audience, start thinking of him as a hapless goofball. Then they and we get blind-sided with the revelation of further dimensions of Mark's life at ADM, and the nature of the investigation--and the movie--changes. That will happen again. And again. It's Soderbergh's ingenious strategy to make us fellow travelers on Mark's crazy ride, virtually infecting us with a short-term version of his dysfunctionality.

Props to screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for boiling down Kurt Eichenwald's 600-page book The Informant: A True Story without sacrificing coherence. And Matt Damon, bulked up by 30 pounds and spluttering his manic lines from under a caterpillar mustache, reconfirms his virtuosity and his willingness to dive deep into such a ...

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Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Comedy
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: February 23, 2010
Runtime: 108 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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