Steven Soderbergh’s latest offering suffers from some major pacing problems. On my drive home from the screening, I kept mentally comparing the experience of watching the film with childbirth. Going through the labor is very unpleasant, and you swear you will never do it again, but the payoff is so fantastic, that you forget about all the pain you endured and immediately want to do it again. That’s right, I want to see this movie again. After all my sighing, seat shifting and a subliminal kiss-off of all future Soderbergh projects, I want to see this film again. That, my friends, is the talent of Soderbergh.
Based on the true story of Illinois agriculture executive turned FBI informant Mark Whitacre, The Informant! takes a slightly satirical spin on actual events. Far from being the ribald comedy the trailers lead you to believe it is, this is actually a character study of a very complicated man. There are funny parts peppered throughout, but if you go to this movie expecting a flat-out comedy, you will be disappointed. Several people walked out of the screening that I attended, and based on the marketing, I didn’t blame them.
Matt Damon is stupendously good as the nerdy executive at an agriculture plant that produces lysine, a corn by-product. He is a shoo-in for best actor this year. Whitacre’s bizarre and inappropriate inner dialogue garners most of the film’s laughs. He’ll be shaking the hand of a business prospect while thinking ” I wonder if bees ever get sad.” He does this through the whole movie, and Damon provides the voice-over for Whitacre’s running stream of consciousness, which allows the audience to be privy to the fact that Whitacre has some serious social flaws. He lives in his own little world, observing the minutiae of day to day life. Cliff from Cheers has nothing on this guy, they both recite useless knowledge they have collected in lieu of having actual conversations with people.
Scott Bakula and Joel McHale (yes, from The Soup) costar as the well-meaning FBI agents who rely on Whitacre’s taped conversations to close a case involving international price fixing and lysine. It’s a delight to see Bakula on screen, and McHale shows that he can play it straight.
I won’t reveal spoilers, and as a general rule, I don’t research movies before I watch them for a review. I prefer to go in without predisposed opinions. That being said, I found the second half of this movie compulsively watchable. I think the movie would have been better served by a gradual reveal. It seems Soderbergh *ahem* shot his proverbial wad a little too late in the movie. Throwing a few breadcrumbs to those of us who didn’t know the real story would have added a little liveliness to a dreadfully plodding first half.
The movie itself seems to have a split personality. Although the time period is the 90’s, everything screams 70’s. The decor, the hair, and the washed-out tones of each scene invoke a distinct 70’s vibe. Several scenes are back-lit, which results in a distracting halo effect. In the second half, I did not notice these conventions as much. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it is yet another reason the second half was far superior to the first.
In any case, I’ll be heading back to the theatres to see this again. If I knew what I know now the first time through, it would have been a far different viewing experience. So, adjust your expectations, and take the movie for what it is: a fascinating portrayal of a very flawed man.