Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Venice Reviews: The Informant!

The Informant!
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey
Grade: C+

Matt Damon's unsightly moustache is the only ugly thing about his performance in The Informant!, a film in which he's required to deceive for nigh-on all of the 109-minute running time. As Marc Whitacre, an executive of a corn manufacturing company, he seeks to expose the illegal price-fixing of his bosses by working with the FBI, but also has his own interests at heart.

It's difficult to believe that The Informant! has turned out far from how Soderbergh envisioned it. A livened, jazzy score accompanies a ferocious onslaught of office politics and satirical jibes at the corrupt corporate world. There's teasing fun to be had here. And still, the monotony of the film's succession of deceit is neither conquered nor enhanced by the playful, obtrusive accompinament (way too much 007 going on in there) and The Informant! is eventually found out for not being modest enough with its style (Brass: yes, Flair: no). Ocean's Eleven, with its slick breed of stars and effortlessly fresh vibe, had the character network and meandering interplay to justify its self-importance. The Informant!'s similarly single-minded approach has the kind of faux-plumage that screams 'mutton dressed as lamb'.

The prime steak in the piece comes in the form of Damon, who I doubted could play someone as funny and manipulative as Whitacre, but grows into the role majestically. Full of bravado he rattles off responses to interrogation with fervent, stern, desperate sincerity, and as we are privvy to his motivations for much of the film the minute cracks he displays in his character are smirk-enducingly accurate, and often hysterical to watch.

The comparisons to Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley aren't difficult to detect. While Tom Ripley was a figure to study, be wary of, admire, feel sorry for, Mark Whitacre is a much softer anti-hero -- eminently rootable a liar, but someone we mostly laugh at rather than with. The Informant! works better in the latter half, when Whitacre becomes more of an individual than representative of a cut-throat breed, and it's largely down to Damon.

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