by Laura Tucker
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While part of the subtle humor of The Informant! lies in the the stupidity of this high-powered executive who turns informant for the FBI, much of the humor for me was in his constant observations. While this is based on a true story, I just wonder if the humor was embellished, or if Mark Whitacre really did have some type of adult ADD, as it appears in the film.
Whitacre (Matt Damon) is a high-level executive with ADM, an agricultural products company based in Southern Illinois. The company becomes involved in a price-fixing scheme of the product lysine, then becomes aware of a virus planted which is destroying their profits. They call in the FBI’s Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula), and while he’s putting a wire tap on Whitacre’s home phone, Whitacre’s wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), forces him into telling Shepard everything that is going on at ADM with the price-fixing.
Shepard brings in another agent into the project, Robert Herndon (Joel McHale), and the two set about working with Whitacre to catch ADM and others in the price-fixing scheme. After he set all this in motion, though, Whitacre isn’t very cooperative, and the FBI agents practically chase him around to get their information. They give him recording equipment telling him to record his meetings with others at ADM, and he says he will, but never makes any recordings. Later he’s talked into making the recordings and makes over 200 in the span of three years of working as an informant for the FBI.
Whitacre fails at almost every task Shepard and Herndon ask him to do, and it becomes quite comical as he blatantly stares into the secret cameras and continually lies … badly … trying to cover his tracks. But the real humor seemed to be in his odd observations of life. He can’t seem to concentrate on any one thing without his mind wandering to the most absurd things. Talking of doing business in Japan, his mind moves to him being in Tokyo before and seeing vending machines with used girls’ panties in them on the street corners. After he blows the whistle on ADM after Shepard visits his house, you’d think he’d be concerned more with that, but instead he’s thinking that Brian is a good listener and that perhaps they should go fishing sometime. He thinks he might try calling him “Bri” sometime.
This is where the success of the film lies, with the writing, direction by Steven Soderbergh, and acting by all of the principals, particularly Damon and Bakula. While it would be tempting to turn Whitacre into a complete charicature of himself, Damon does well to be sure he doesn’t take the silliness too far. He keeps Whitacre in his own little world. Bakula does well with Brian Shepard, portraying him at times as the long-suffering ally to Whitacre. It’s up to him to help sort out lies and convince Whitacre to carry on with the project every time he wants to stop.
Seeing The Informant!, you’re bound to not walk away from it talking about what a great movie it is, but instead walk away incredulous that this is actually a true story and Mark Whitacre is actually a real person. That’s the beauty of the film.
The Informant! is out on both DVD and Blu-Ray
Laura Tucker is the webmaster of Reality Shack and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, provides reviews at Viewpoints, and provides entertainment news pieces at Gather. She is also an Associate Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at LauraBelle@realityshack.com.
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