Rated R for language, 108 minutes
Dark, talky comedy "The Informant!" worth it in the end
The new dark dramedy "The Informant!" is based on the true story of bipolar embezzler and corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre, a seemingly unfunny story if you were to read it on paper. Yet, "The Informant!," from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic," "Ocean's 11") and star Matt Damon works in spite of that, as it channels how utterly ridiculous (but true) it all is. The film's excessively talky first act develops into an involving, absorbing portrait of white collar crimes and criminals, just stay with it until the end.
A pudgy Damon plays the real-life Whitacre, an executive with agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) who suddenly turns whistleblower and informant for the FBI when they begin investigating multi-national price-fixing conspiracies. With the assistance of a couple of a couple of FBI agents ("Quantum Leap's" Scott Bakula and "The Soup's" Joel McHale), he wears a wire and creates numerous audio and video tapes to gain more evidence. But as the situation unravels over several years, they realize that Whitacre's ever-changing story is full of inconsistencies, making it impossible to determine what is real and what isn't.
"The Informant!" is a darkly funny, intelligent dramedy and thriller that's based on Kurt Eichenwald's best-selling, very serious non-fiction account of Whitacre's story. The film is smartly directed by Soderbergh and skillfully portrayed by Damon, who gained 30 pounds for the role. The film's biggest flaw is an excessively talky act (written by "The Bourne Ultimatum's" scribe Scott Z. Burns) that requires its audience to sit through an enormous amount of dialogue to get to a more absorbing second half.
You wouldn't think that something as serious a story as this wouldn't work, but once you see how elaborate Whitacre's lies were, the dark humor in accordance with that. The film isn't an entirely balanced portrait of informant Whitacre, who actually ended up doing more good than harm, even though he himself was quite guilty of embezzlement. The film focuses more on the white collar crimes than Whitacre's mental problems, though that's evident from his random, often ridiculous thought-processes, with many voice-overs from Damon in the first act that'll make more sense near the end of the film.
What's even more remarkable about "The Informant!" is the true story itself is more affecting than the film itself, not to mention the Whitacre's coda, who served time, got psychological help, is now back in the corporate world and largely regarded as a hero by the FBI for all his work in helping investigate price-fixing scams.
To truly enjoy the smart, darkly funny "The Informant!," stick with it until the end and you'll see why the story is so important.