A blog about movies and filmmaking.

You want to know who falls for those Nigerian money scams??

In comedy on September 10, 2009 at 11:07 pm

The new movie from Steven Soderbergh, THE INFORMANT, is based on a true story about a high level executive in a corn-based sugar company, and his adventures informing (hence the title) on his company to the FBI. The lead character’s name is Mark Whitacre, and is played amazingly by Matt Damon, and the movie begins with him narrating facts about corn, about Porsche and even what the german word for pen is…and it’s a lot longer than “pen”. So, we get that Mark is smart, has a scatter-brained personality and within the first ten minutes has shown us that he owns a Porsche, a Ferrari and a Benz. It’s in a meeting with his boss – the son of the actual owner – when we learn of a virus that’s been creating problems with their output, and Mark reveals that a Japanese man called and said that there was a mole in ADM (that’s the company Mark works for), and the man would take $10 million to release the name and a form of sucrose that was resistant to the virus. Well, the people in charge see this as an embezzlement scam and call in the FBI.

It’s during the scene where the FBI agent, played by Scott Bakula, comes to Mark’s home to install a recording device, that Mark reveals other unscrupulous happenings in the company, including industry-wide price-fixing. And this is the beginning of three years of Mark Whitacre recording his coworkers, competition, and who knows who else. Of course, we then find out that everything Mark has pretty much ever told anyone, has been a lie. Whether it’s the mole in the company, the amount of money he’s personally taken, and even the fate of his parents.

Damon gives us some fantastic scenes, where you just know that this man is flying by the seat of his pants. Telling one group one thing, then another group something completely contradictory. In one moment, he actually takes a polygraph and afterwards the FBI agents come up to him and say they have a problem. Mark says, “what do you mean, those things never even moved.” The FBI guys say, “you don’t know how to read a polygraph.” The other thing that makes this movie practically shout out, “this whole thing is messing with your mind” is the great soundtrack by Marvin Hamlisch, who has provided music for a number of Woody Allen movies and the score that I couldn’t help have pop into my mind was THE STING.

(Fun anecdote, in junior high, we put on a play that was sort of an awards show celebrating music in movies. In that play, I actually played Marvin Hamlisch introducing someone that could actually play rag-time music – who was probably playing Scott Joplin, I don’t remember. Ok, probably not that funny.)

Anyway, this movie is a hoot. Matt Damon completely throws away any semblance of a person that might have at one time been a pick-pocket, or even a government trained super-spy. The supporting characters from Scott Bakula, and his partner, played by Joel McHale, and Melanie Lynskey playing Ginger, Mark’s wife; spend most of the movie trying to protect, and stand up for Whitacre, even when others are questioning who this guy is. But, the amazing talent this movie has gathered is when the lawyers are brought in. We get Clancy Brown, Patton Oswalt, Tony Hale, and even a Smothers Brother. Everyone gets at least one moment, most everyone that ever shows up on the screen has at least one, “WTF” moment when regarding Mark.

Steven Soderbergh has seemingly taken a step back into his more whimsical movie-making. More along the lines of OUT OF SIGHT and the OCEANS movies, THE INFORMANT, shows us the comedic side of Soderbergh, and I have to honestly say, I respect him as an adventurous filmmaker, but these movies tend to be my favorite of his. The movie, written by Scott Z. Burns, has a Bourne movie under his screenwriting belt, and though there’s not a single action/fight scene to be seen, there is a lot of tension and hilarity. My only question has to be, how much of this is good screenwriting, and how much is just the “fact is stranger than fiction”, of the real life events. The movie opens with a disclaimer, “Though the events of this movie are true, the events and names have been composited and changed. So there.” And that really sets up the entire movie, you sit through.


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