24 Oct 2009

Truth is stranger than fiction in latest Damon-Soderbergh collaboration


MANILA, Philippines — The bizarre tale of Mark Whitacre, a top-tier executive at a Fortune 100 company who becomes a whistleblower for the FBI, is proof positive of the aphorism that the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Whitacre (Matt Damon), the protagonist of Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, “The Informant!,” is a fascinating character who’s very hard to figure out, even after the end of an almost two-hour-long movie about him.


The highest-ranking executive to have ever turned whistleblower in American history, Whitacre exposed the price-fixing conspiracy that his company, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), was involved in. It’s the 1990s, and ADM, an agribusiness conglomerate, is colluding with several food companies to fix the price of lysine in the world market. They manage to double it and make a lot of money in the process—that is, until Whitacre starts talking to the Feds.

If you think “The Informant!” is like “The Insider,” think again. While the story might be similar to Michael Mann’s 1999 Russell Crowe-starrer, which was about another whistleblower, you can tell how different they are by noting that the title of the former has an exclamation point. That punctuation mark, not to mention the wacky ’70s-style music and the retro font used in the title credits, should tell you that Soderbergh, along with Damon, plans to take you on a spin—and what a loopy ride it turns out to be!

The film is probably the zaniest cinematic depiction you’ll ever see about corporate fraud and the pudgy men in suits who perpetrate it. It’s a serious matter and the production never loses sight of that fact, but it also takes time to relish the absurdity of it all.

The script, written by Scott Z. Burns and based on the book, “The Informant: A True Story” by Kurt Eichenwald, gives us a peek into the life of an immensely inscrutable individual. If you want to know why Whitacre did what he did, you’re not really going to find out completely, but you’ll have a lot of fun trying, anyway.

Matt Damon, who puts on 30 pounds, thick glasses, a toupee and a moustache, is at his most earnest. He will draw you in, make you believe in him and play you like a fish on a line.

Cheery countenance

The actor delivers a deceptively straight performance—his Mark Whitacre looks like any rising executive in America, with his thickening waist, house in the suburbs and cheery countenance—but, don’t be deceived. As the movie progresses, you’ll see what lies beneath the surface.

In fact, you’ll get a taste of it right from the start, since the script requires him to deliver voice-overs throughout the movie. Frequently hilarious and almost always disconnected from what’s going on in the real world, these monologues clue you in on how differently Whitacre functions and add to the film’s overall sense of things not being completely right

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