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Time Out New York Project: Issue #729, September 17-23, 2009
Dir. Steven Soderbergh. 2009. R. 108mins. Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale.
Matt Damon gives a movie star’s performance in The Informant!—all mustache, oversize specs and eventual bald pate. His character, Mark Whitacre, is a real-life corporate sad sack, a manic-depressive who blew the whistle on a price-fixing conspiracy at the agri-industry conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland. The only problem was that the bipolar Whitacre kept changing his story: As the “truth” became more malleable and labyrinthine, the exec’s own embezzlement sins came to light, and he served eight years in federal prison.
Damon plays the movieland version of the man as a cartoonish collection of tics and digressive internal monologues. It’s an approach that calls to mind Richard Attenborough’s wide-eyed, Elmer Fuddian menace as the serial-killer protagonist of 10 Rillington Place. But there’s something crucial missing, a sense of empathy and experience that would make the actor’s surface acrobatics seem less of an awards-baiting stunt.
Director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh’s indifference to the material is palpable and of a piece with his deathly dull output of late. It hardly matters if the subject is Vegas thieves (Ocean’s Thirteen) or Che Guevara (Che)—Soderbergh just shows up and does some purposelessly sterile image making, as if he were a disembodied tech-head shooting a demo reel on next-day deadline. The Informant! is one of his ugliest works, photographed on the RED digital camera system in such a way that depth of field is meaninglessly flattened into backlit brown mush. Only composer Marvin Hamlisch brings his A-game, contributing a frenzied, perpetually upbeat score that burrows deeper into Whitacre’s psyche than anything else in this black-comic blunder.—Keith Uhlich