Marvin Hamlisch’s raucous, slapstick score—musically, of course, dreadful—busily proclaims how funny a film The Informant! is. Only it isn’t. A few chuckles are provided, and there’s a persistent air of arch amusement; but Steven Soderbergh’s exquisitely photographed film—Peter Andrews, a.k.a. Soderbergh, is the color cinematographer—isn’t sharp enough to be particularly funny. At best, it beams.
Based on New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald’s dense nonfiction book about the Mark Whitacre affair, Soderbergh’s film cleverly plays off a deliberate discrepancy. Whitacre’s continual voiceover manages to reveal nothing about Whitacre’s actual thoughts or thought processes. A biochemist who had seeped up into upper management at Archer Daniels Midland, Whitacre told the truth to the F.B.I. about lysine price-fixing but about little else—certainly nothing that would knock the white hat off his self-deluded head. Craving attention, Whitacre tells everyone that his parents died in a road accident when he was 6, but luckily he was adopted by a wealthy couple. Truth is, his biological parents are still alive. Reason then for the lie? Why, he discovered that adopted children drew especial affection. Count Whitacre an amoral confidence man—and one who drew a longer prison sentence than those he blew the whistle on.
Lightly skewering both corporate mentality and F.B.I. lackadaisicalness and incompetence, and trying hard to wring humor from Whitacre’s addiction to publicity, this is a lame, disappointing although visually spectacular film—one that’s dispiritingly overproduced. Matt Damon, who gained 30 pounds to play Whitacre, gives a ho-hum performance.
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