Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Informant!

Film #300


The U.S. government decides to go after an agri-business giant with a price-fixing accusation, based on the evidence submitted by their star witness, vice president turned informant Mark Whitacre.

Year 1, Day 314

BEFORE: After a long and very strenuous week of post production work for the 32nd Annual EVVY Awards, I’m ready to return to the movie marathon and finish out the year. I don’t foresee any further complications in terms of scheduling and in fact I will need to pick up the pace considerably to meet the 365 film mark. To help catch up, I’m planning on watching all eleven Star Trek films leading up to the new one coming out next week but before I do that, I’d like to start back up with another comedy, The Informant!. Starring Matt Damon (last heard in Ponyo) and directed by Steven Soderbergh (last directed Side Effects) I’m quite looking forward to see what’s in store. Hopefully my extreme sleep deprivation doesn’t affect the viewing but I don’t think it will.

AFTER: If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll know that my reviews aren’t really typical movie reviews. Most feature a detailed plot summary with the opinion mixed in. I try to go for a broader, more comparison-based approach, looking at how what a film does works or doesn’t and why that may be compared to another film. With The Informant!, an interesting thing occurred: many elements match with those I have liked in other films, but this execution left the film too bland.

The Informant! is based on real events (but dramatized) and follows the investigation of a company called ADM involving employee Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) who cooperates with the FBI. On IMDb the film is listed as a comedy (and it did have some funny moments - almost all involved the lawyer James Epstein played by Tony Hale), but I would classify it under the second two genres on IMDb: drama and thriller. Everything about this feels like a Soderbergh film (which is generally a good thing) because there’s all these different elements to it. Comedy is present to lighten the mood but underneath it all is a lot of suspense, complicated and intertwining plots, and many different characters. But generally doesn’t mean all the time, and this time, the film doesn’t succeed.

The biggest reason is timing and delivery of information to the viewer. A lot of this film relies on information: who knows what, when they know it, and what we don’t know. This leads to some interesting twists and turns and exciting stuff at the end, but the whole film feels like it’s just yanking your chain. Stuff happens but it never feels as if anything is resolved - everything is left up in the air. In the beginning, you can chalk up not knowing in the ambiguity category (as I did with A Serious Man), but once you start getting to the middle of the film and new events continue to unfold without much, or any, reference to prior events and you’re left wondering, “What am I watching?” Come to think of it, that makes sense given that the film is based on real events: it feels like a time elapses as it would in over the course of three years. But there’s a difference between showing an accurate representation (or even a dramatized one) of actual events and doing it in a way that’s entertaining for the viewer. You could film a person painting a room and transform it into this beautiful new place, but chances are you’d find it boring and pointless. The Informant! is much better than watching paint dry but it has a similar feeling because the whole point of the film shifts, multiple times throughout the film. By the end, it’s almost a different film, one that could have it’s own separate two hours. Obviously, the whole thing is one and, having actually taken place can’t be split into two stories, but nonetheless that’s how it feels.

Bottom line is this. The Informant! has a lot of promise and many interesting things about it. Using voiceover quite heavily was something that struck me as odd and out of place at the beginning, but fits perfectly after seeing the ending. The inter- and intra-personal relationships between the characters also have the markings of greatness (lots of great development and complexity), but much gets lost in the meandering nature of the story. Definitely and interesting film to check out if you have the time, especially if you’re interested in real-life films. Catch Me If You Can is in the similar vein as The Informant! and is a much better pick, but the Damon/Soderbergh collaboration has some unique elements that could entertain.

RATING: 3 out of 5