The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009) November 4, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
Written by Scott Z. Burns
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale
You can tell when the book you’re reading is going to end. You just look at the last page and see how close you are to it. You can likewise tell when the movie you’re watching is about to finish. You look at your watch, approximate the film to the usual running time of two hours, and there, credits at your prediction. But we watch movies to avoid that, to avoid thinking of the obvious, not to be aware of time. Often it is the movies that make us stay in the theater for long that we remember—out of experience. Importantly, it’s not the when but the how. The Informant! requires a lot of hows to be shown, but the good thing about it is that you just have to wait for it to finish, and it will all make sense.
Matt Damon is the ! in The Informant!—that’s for sure. The beauty of his character is that you want him to get caught and not to get caught at the same time. Here you have an executive of an agricultural company cooperating with the FBI against his own company, thinking in the end that he will be elected as CEO after the well-supported pursuit of his price-fixing allegation, and hoping to save himself when his scams are exposed. He’s loony—but it’s an understatement to call him loony after all the years he managed to continue dovetailing the company and the FBI. The crazy lies he makes, seemingly unaware but unadulterated, pile up like Uno Stacko waiting to collapse anytime.
Soderbergh avoids making another Erin Brockovich—the championing of human spirit, the tasteful blend of quirks and generalities—and fails. The Informant! is just like it turned upside down. Mark Whitacre and Erin Brockovich took their convictions with them till the end, and on their behalf, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts made them memorable characters. A film earns the right to be dazed and confused only when it is funny, and when it is so goddamn incredulous you start to believe it. When The Informant! ends I actually wonder why the hell I watched it. The music rolls everything into a snowball, which hits the pins in my head to turn me sober. But the trouble was worth it.
(PS. Let’s keep this a secret. I chose watching The Informant! over Jennifer’s Body and Astroboy because of the exclamation point in its title. The basis of the movie—The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald—does not have it, and I thought perhaps that will make all the difference. I suppose the movie can manage without it—but without the !, seriously, I may not be too keen on seeing it. I can be petty like that when pettiness is concerned.)