Ahhhh, it's The Informant!
I adore intelligent actors. And writers. So I’ve had a soft spot for Matt Damon ever since “Good Will Hunting” more than a decade ago (omgod). His intelligence is even more apparent throughout the years since, as evident by his ability to hold down a successful relationship as a husband and father, get continuous work, become a box-office hit action hero, and have fun in the Ocean series alongside the Clooney crew, all the while staying relatively under the radar and away from paparrazi harrassment. As close to the perfect Hollywood life as possible, really.
A lot of that may be attributed to what some dubbed as “boring” about Damon, that he is not so outrageously good-looking or oozes sex appeal like the world is ending or parties in front of cameras or the fact that he’s married to someone who is relatively unknown and has stayed that way. I think he’s just smart in preserving his privacy. I also think that there’s nothing boring about Damon, and certainly not in “The Informant!”
Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie is based on real events that happened in the early 1990s, about a guy, Mark Whitacre, who was an Ivy League Ph.D working at ADM, an international corporation with over 270 plants worldwide that profits off processing cereal grains and oilseeds into an endless variety of products in food, beverage, nutrition, industrial and animal feed worldwide. Basically, by the time you finish breakfast, you have touched ADM.
Damon plays Whitacre, who despite being a rising star and high-rank executive in the company, single-handedly exposed its price-fixing scheme and worked with FBI undercover for over 2.5 years to bring down the main players. How he actually does this is bizarre – he’s never had any training in surveillance or espionage or spying, and yet he manages to scrap by brilliantly in almost every situation. Is he just insanely intelligent? Or one of those naturally gifted individuals? Or the genius next door that you can never tell walking past? What’s his motive? Why would he risk his job, his salary, and his career, to expose a scheme that pays him very very well? Those are questions that pull us along for the ride and unravel as we reach the destination. Soderbergh winds the plot at a steady pace, punctuated with a ridiculously hilarious music score. Damon is completely in sync with Whitacre, embodying this frantic frenziness that make you care about what he is doing, although with him, you never really know.
I find it hard to categorize this film in a conventional category. It’s not really a comedy, though it is really funny. It’s not really a drama either, though there are certainly drama all the way through. It’s not a thriller, though the plot is probably better than most “thrillers” that come out in theaters. It’s a very good film.
Soderbergh has been coming to TIFF ever since he first screened “Sex, Lies and Videotapes” here almost 20 years ago. At the introduction of the film at Elgin on Saturday morning, he wryly said that there isn’t any sex or videotapes in this film (not true, actually, as there’s definitely two sly scenes involving videotape…secret videotapes), but there are plenty of lies to keep us going for another 20 years. He’s right (see previous sentence for first lie). More than the corporate lies to the public, the ending reveals that it’s the lies we tell to ourselves that have the most profound effect. It’s interesting how one affects the other, and how easily it is to tell a lie, how easily it is to build one lie on top of another, how hard it is to discern the truth within a lie, and how incredibly difficult it is to extract yourself out of the lie that has become your life.
What would happen if Whitacre never had that first conversation with the FBI agent? He would probably be living a pretty comfortable life, the rest of us would be paying a few more dimes for our groceries, and none of us would be any wiser. The world goes on turning.