The Informant! A cast that rocks, a plot that teeters

by Beacon Staff • September 16, 2009

The Informant! based on Kurt Eichenwald's novel The Informant (A True Story) follows Mark Whitacre, President of the Bioproducts division and corporate vice president of Archer Daniels Midland, a Fortune 500 agricultural corporation.,Steven Soderbergh's new film The Informant! plays like The Insider meets Fargo. It is a funny, perplexing, even tense movie that is definitely worth the trip to the theatre.

The Informant! based on Kurt Eichenwald's novel The Informant (A True Story) follows Mark Whitacre, President of the Bioproducts division and corporate vice president of Archer Daniels Midland, a Fortune 500 agricultural corporation.

In the early 1990s, Whitacre became an FBI source and dished secret info about about a price-fixing scheme involving ADM and its worldwide competitors.

Whiteacre rats out his company for breaking the law, but the story isn't the main concern of Soderbergh's film. The inquisitive director is interested in exploring the characters inhabiting this seedy corporate world.

Soderbergh has a proven track record for assembling ensemble casts, like in Ocean's 11 through 13, a trend which The Informant! only reinforces.

Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, and Joel McHale make up a very strong core and are supported by wonderful small performances by Tom Papa and Melanie Lynskey.

Bakula, who plays Special Agent Brian Shepard, brings a sweet confidence to his character and infuses him with a quiet power. When Whitacre (Damon) first meets Shepard, the FBI is installing a wiretap on his phone to monitor business calls to Whitacre from a Japanese associate of ADM.

Just before he leaves, Whitacre stops him and reveals the company's price-fixing scheme. Shepard calmly listens and takes the information to his superiors, always reassuring Whitacre.

This is how Bakula continues to play Shepard throughout the film. He always remains attentive and assertive, pushing Whitacre occasionally but subtly. When he scrutinizes Whitacre, Bakula's eyes convey that he worries Whitacre may not fully understand the gravity of betraying his powerful corporate employer.

Bakua and his partner, FBI Special Agent Bob Herndon - a surprisingly reserved and quietly funny Joel McHale - create a team that seems to genuinely care about Whitacre and what he is doing. They never forget that Whitacre is a person, not just a source of information. They carry a picture of Whitacre's family to remind themselves of that very fact.

These two, while funny and touching, never steal scenes. Bakula and McHale always look to Damon to lead and follow him wherever he goes. They support the main character, like a good supporting cast should, a quality that is all too often overlooked.

As for the film's star appeal, Matt Damon is incredible as Mark Whitacre. He is stuttering, unsure, geeky and pudgy - really pudgy. Damon gained 30 pounds for the role by pulling a Morgan Spurlock and eating almost exclusively McDonald's fast food for weeks, according to People Magazine.

Whenever the world becomes too intense around him, Whitacre retreats into trivial knowledge - the reason for which is revealed as the film approaches its climax. The audience is tickled every time he drifts into an inner monologue to talk about polar bears' hunting habits or girls' panties dispensers in Japan.

As off-the-wall as he can get, Damon grounds Whitacre as a moral man, one who turned on a company paying him more than a quarter of a million dollars each year because he wanted to do the right thing and protect his family.

Even though he knows helping the FBI is the right thing to do, he still feels loyal to ADM and is reluctant to betray the company. He sways back and forth between decisons to work with the FBI and work against them, and he does the same with ADM. Whitacre bumbles and fumbles through ploys, going half way through with some and completely dismissing others.

It is these inconsistencies that make him flesh and blood.

Through Damon's performance, the film reveals itself to be an in-depth character study, not a conspiracy movie. The investigations of ADM are secondary to Damon's performance, which makes the audience wonder why Whitacre was blowing the whistle and what the consequences will be for his breach of trust.

The film drags a little in the middle and toward the end when it digresses into uncovering Whitacre's actions behind the FBI's back. These actions are not boring, but there is too much back and forth between the FBI and Whitacre before the truth is uncovered.

As the film goes on, the grindhouse-style titles and music, popularized by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino begin to, well, grind on the audience. Even so, the movie never stops being fun. Soderbergh and his cast keep you laughing, thinking, and caring.,Pierce O'Toole