Director Steven Soderbergh doesn’t make movies lightly anymore. He probably doesn’t need the money anymore; he’s already won an Oscar in a year where two of his films were nominated for Best Picture. Instead, he’s been stretching his legs as a restless artist every now and then, but especially lately. He knows he can do the easy sell – the Ocean’s Eleven or Fifteen or whatever they have become. The question remains, though: are his best films behind him?
You might not be prepared for The Informant! in the ways you expect. It isn’t a corporate thriller, it isn’t even a traditional whistle-blower movie. It’s a comedy, more or less, or a portrait more or less, or an experiment, really. What it is for certain, though, is a showcase of one great performance by Matt Damon who plays sociopaths better than he plays heroes and who is one of the great and unnoticed actors of his generation.
Packing on 30 pounds, with feathered hair and a ridiculous mustache, Damon plays real life whistle blower Marc Whitacre. He worked for ADM and ratted them out for price-fixing to the FBI. The film, though, isn’t so much about that – it’s almost wants to be that story because Whitacre really wants to be that guy, but Whitacre isn’t that guy. He’s a pretender, a Rupert Pupkin.
To that end, The Informant! is going to frustrate a lot of people. But if you imagine for a moment that Soderbergh made something more like you were expecting – what would be the point of that? Yet another generic movie that anyone could have directed. No, instead, he plays up the idea of whistle-blowers as icons. Indeed, this is a couple of layers deep and not all people are going to agree, but think about it – you work for the company you know is doing something illegal. You work for them and you rat them out. Somewhere in there is a major moral dilemma, yet we don’t really ever think about that aspect – we focus on the hero we want to see.
Soderbergh flips this idea on its ear. The whistleblower as sociopathic, self-serving individual with no clear redeeming factors. The funny part about this is that Soderbergh did it all. In Hollywood, you don’t make movies about unsympathetic characters like this because audiences are turned off by it. We have to “like” them or else why watch them. To that extent, The Informant! is frustrating. But I like how it made me think. I haven’t seen a Soderbergh film since Sex, Lies and Videotape that made me think.
The real reason to see this movie, though, is Matt Damon. Even if you don’t “like” the character you must, by now, like the actor. The strangest thing about the film, though, is how the real Marc Whitacre is so proud of it – he is walking the lines at screenings, has it splashed all over his website, and proclaims that he isn’t “that guy” anymore. But how are we to believe him?