Film review – The Informant! (2009)

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon)

The Informant! opens with a distinctively retro feel: the font used in the titles; the soft focus, slightly over lit and orange toned cinematography; the overblown spy film music by legendary film and stage composer Marvin Hamlisch and the close-ups on old-school recording devices all evoke Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 surveillance classic The Conversation. It then comes as somewhat of a surprise to learn that The Informant! is set during the early to mid 1990s. Not only does this retro style remind us of how much has changed since the still fairly recent digital revolution but it also creates a slightly over-the-top paranoid mood, which was a characteristic of Cold War themed 1970s cinema. This mood then contrasts beautifully with the very droll, borderline ridiculous, based-on-a-true-story narrative about a corporate whistle blower who worked with the FBI to expose his company’s price-fixing practices.

The whistle-blower is Mark Whitacre and he is played brilliantly by Matt Damon. Whitacre is a truly bizarre character who on the surface seems like an endearingly simple and naive company man but is also somebody with very ambiguous motives. Damon’s voiceovers throughout the film cue the audience into Whitacre’s thought process and very quickly it becomes clear that he has an incredibly active mind that is always going off on strange tangents. Whitacre may be nodding his head in agreement during an important meeting but in his mind he is musing over the way polar bears try to hide themselves. The results are frequently funny but there is a sense throughout The Informant! that something is just not right with Whitacre. Indeed, later in the film it becomes apparent that he is a completely unreliable narrator who not only constantly deceives the audience and the other characters, but also himself.

After presumably finishing up with the Ocean’s Eleven films in 2007, Steven Soderbergh made the two-part Che film in 2008 and now The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant! in 2009. The price of being so prolific is that inevitably the quality of the films does suffer. While The Informant! is an improvement on the single-idea experimental film The Girlfriend Experience it doesn’t feel as polished and tight as it could have been. It’s still an inventive film with an excellent performance by Damon and Hamlisch’s glorious over-the-top score is a real treat. Nevertheless, this strange and off-kilter corporate espionage satire never quite feels as fulfilling as it could have been.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. Nice review. I agree. It’s a great performance but so many things about this film are just dull – cinematography, production design and the general sense of exhaustion that comes when you immediately realise Whitacre is going to fall, big time. I personally would have given this film 2 and a half stars only!

  2. I’m looking forward to this one Thomas, I love how prolific Soderbergh is – though as you say his quality may be suffering somewhat. But he’s always worth watching either way.

    Look forward to hearing the score too, I’ve heard good things. Even though I’m not a huge fan of Hamlisch it’s great to see directors revisiting the past – especially the 70’s – by giving fresh opportunities to composers long ago discarded for a new wave of generic sound designers!

    Fincher did the same by hiring David Shire to score Zodiac and his sparse score fitted like a glove between the source music. Made for a great little CD too.

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