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Informant: Not so corny humor

Connor Rogers | Monday, September 28, 2009

 Steven Soderbergh is one of the few Hollywood directors whose films walk the thin line between superstar blockbusters and artistic independent films. His latest film, “The Informant!” is no exception. In it, he tells a tale of corporate crime that is slightly comedic, shockingly tragic, and simply confusing. 
After Soderbergh’s success with his Ocean’s trilogy (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” “Ocean’s Thirteen”) he has teamed up with Matt Damon, an Ocean’s alum. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, an employee of A.D.M., a corn processing plant, who turns corporate whistleblower. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) adapts the screenplay from a book of the same name, written by journalist Kurt Eichenwald. The events that take place onscreen are based on a true story, but just how many liberties have been taken with it are anybody’s guess. 
Damon gives a very convincing performance as the protagonist of the film. In addition to packing on several pounds for the role, Damon’s acting captures the many shades of Whitacre’s character -nerd, secret agent and pathological liar. 
While the other actors in the movie are not big time stars like Damon, viewers will be happy to see some television comedy stars on the silver screen. Joel McHale, of “The Soup” fame, and Tony Hale, “Arrested Development’s” Buster, give decent performances. Other than that the rest of the characters in the story lack any emotional depth and appear two-dimensional.
By far the film’s greatest strength is its cinematography. Soderbergh has an eye for softly lit sets combined with clever camera shots. One shot begins upside down then flips 180 degrees right side up as a red Porsche zooms by. Supplementing the visual eye candy is a stellar 60s sounding soundtrack. 
While the visual aesthetics are easy on the eyes, the storyline is not so easy on the average viewer’s brain. The movie starts out with a simple enough premise – Whitacre agreeing to wear a wire for the FBI to provide information to bring his company down. But then the premise snowballs as Whitacre has not been upfront with everyone. The audience is left to discover who is really telling the truth.
What makes the story even more depressing is that it’s non-fiction. It is one thing to watch a fictitious movie company engage in a global price-fixing scheme to swindle billions of dollars. It is another to remember this actually happened. As the end credits roll on the screen, viewers come to the depressing realization that the crooks behind the corporate scheme at A.D.M. were only given three years in a white-collar prison. Worst of all, the chief architect of this scheme who embezzled millions of dollars was only given nine years in prison, and went on to become the president of another company.
One is not sure what Steven Soderbergh is trying to say about corporate crime. Is it comedic? Is it disgusting? Perhaps the intention of the film is to be deliberately ambiguous. All in all, “The Informant!” delivers something too serious to be labeled a comedy and not straightforward enough to be labeled a drama, leaving it out to dry in no man’s land.