I am so excited for my date tonight with a man known for his toupe, bad moustache, recent weight gain and prison sentence. The Smothers Brothers, the stalker chick from "Two and a Half Men," a punctuation mark and Decatur, Illinois are also involved. AND Scott Bakula! (Who didn't love "Quantum Leap?")
The Informant! has benefited from a year of foreplay, mostly stemming from photos of Matt Damon looking decidedly un-Bourne on set. Damon's partnership with Oceans' director Steven Soderbergh adds to the buzz of this tongue-in-cheek (and exclamation-point-in-title) dark comedy/espionage caper/thriller. The film is based on a reporter's version of a perplexing whistleblower story from the 90s. As a highly paid Vice President of agri-buisness giant Archer Daniels Midland, why would Whitacre risk his prosperity by covertly spying to get information about price collusion to the FBI after he already was knee-deep in the muck? And we know he ended up serving time in prison, so apparently there is more to the story than a good man's drive to do the right thing. But what?
Soderbergh takes viewers on a Magic Schoolbus ride through the twisted mind of Whitacre. Christy Lemire at Entertainment Daily blogs that the joke's meant to be on the viewer. "It’s a kick, really, but it also keeps you guessing: Is Damon, as Mark Whitacre, just a regular guy who gets in over his head? Is he far more scheming and malevolent than his folksy Midwestern demeanor would suggest? Or is something else entirely going on here? (...) One of the neatest tricks that throws us off course is Whitacre’s running interior monologue: a series of voiceovers in which he provides stream-of-consciousness musings on everything from indoor pools to Brioni ties to the Japanese word for tuna. His thoughts may not be as innocuous as they seem."
So a psychological thriller, yes, but at heart a dark comedy. The review at Katie Walsh's The Playlist says: "Soderbergh could have made a straightforward, righteous anti-corporate greed screed, something like Michael Mann's The Insider, but he didn't. He stayed true to himself and his sensibilities (who else would have used that garish disco font?), and concocted this bizarre comedy-thriller-biopic model, creating something wholly unique and powerful (and, yes, goofy)."
One thing is clear, the film has geeks of all types geeking out. Design geeks are noting the 70's feel to the promotional materials and set decoration despite the fact the story happens two decades later. Tech geeks have been tracking the way Soderbergh used the HD digital RED Camera which allows low level lighting, warm colors and fast, flexible shooting. Film geeks marvel that eight pages a day were shot, which is a fast, television rate of filming. Music enthusiasts are praising the ridiculous, over-the-top The Spy Who Loves Me score by Marvin Hamlisch himself--Jen Johan calls it "the ultimate accompaniment for a film about a whistleblower who compares himself to James Bond ("only twice as smart"), Tom Cruise in The Firm, and the Michael Crichton novel Rising Sun."
Still, success comes down to performance, though critics are mostly praising Damon; some even offer Oscar nods. Sasha Stone at Awards Daily posted, "Damon gives one of his best turns in The Informant! He’s a bit overdue at this rate; helping him greatly is his success with the Bourne movies. Juxtapose the two roles and you’ll see probably the least showy versatile character actor around."
Will this all translate into box office success? Are you up for cheeky sarcasm and a wacky! fun-filled! deceptive! ride! through the high-fructose-corn-syrup fields of corporate greed? Can you get behind a Matt Damon who looks like the love child of William Macy Jr. and Phillip Seymour Hoffman? Will I see you in the popcorn line? Because I'll be there, absolutely. I could never deny a carefully selected punctuation mark it's moment.
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