In “The Informant!,” Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a brilliant chemist and compulsive con man. On one hand, he is a corporate whistle-blower and devoted family man. On the other, the bespectacled nerd is a man without a conscience.
He may be doing the right thing by exposing corruption in the agriculture business, but as presented here, Whitacre seems to take mischievous delight duping bosses, colleagues, attorneys and FBI agents in what amounts to an international game of corporate chess.
In short, even his acts that nab wrongdoers are hardly altruistic. This mild-mannered guy is a master narcissist. That is his calling card in a muted thriller, a cat-and-mouse game which addresses the motives of con men, from the corner bookie to crooks like Bernard Madoff.
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay by: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Matt Damon, Tom Papa, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula and Joel McHale
Running time: 108 minutes
Because “The Informant!” does not smack us in the face with exaggerated antics, it’s unlikely to attract moviegoers yearning for the tightrope thrills we encounter in Damon’s repertoire of high-octane offerings like “The Bourne Identity.” This Damon opus might be categorized as a subdued thriller, a riff in a minor key, and a compelling character study.
It’s intelligent, which means it demands a little extra from audiences. But the rewards trump the muted, comic approach that distinguish Steven Soderbergh’s movie, based on a true account — a book by New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald.
Damon’s character is a real dude, a top executive at agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland. That he exposed the price-fixing scheme at the firm is only part of the story, the narrative which propels our interest and involvement.
As enticing as the story may be, Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns are out to catch bigger fish, as they expose nefarious practices that infest the international corporate environment soaked in the oil of greed. It’s this mentality that the drama exposes, in comic fashion.
Along the way, we meet FBI agents played nimbly by Scott Bakula and Joel McHale. I don’t know what to make of Whitacre’s wife, Ginger, played by Melanie Lynskey, but she is a delightfully enigmatic character. The real acting coup is pulled off by Damon, who once more displays a remarkable and enviable versatility.
Summoning memories of ’60s disposable thrillers starring Dean Martin (think Matt Helm), Marvin Hamlisch’s witty score complements the movie’s mood and tone of comic irony.