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Sep192009

The Informant! is one amusing and delusional guy (Review)

Have you ever been caught in a lie? In the third grade I got angry at a girl in my neighborhood when she left me and my bike out in the rain. To get back at her, I told my Mother that she maliciously rolled my bike into the ditch (I wanted her to pay). I got caught in that lie and paid the price. I found out how shameful a lie can be. Mark Whitacre never learned this lesson.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was a high ranking and upwardly mobile fortune 500 executive who ratted out his own company to the FBI. He was a mole for the FBI for more than two years. Mark is a strange guy, and I mean that in the fullest sense of the word. Lucky for us, the movie made about him (this is a true story) is as idiosyncratic as the man himself.

The Informant! is a hilarious and, admittedly, dramatized account of Mark's time with the FBI. The great thing is that I can't recall a single actual joke in the movie. Mark's many goofball and idiotic actions are fodder enough. As often as he twists and worsens his situation, it's hard to believe this is a true story. Damon plays the role straight-laced, and it pays off. It's nice to see Damon step out of Bourne and Oceans Eleven to try something challenging. He even gained some weight for the role.

Director Steven Soderbergh makes a number of choices that keep this tale fun and lighthearted. The first is the setting. Mark Whitacre's story takes place between 1992 and 1995, but it feels like we're watching the 1960s. Soderbergh picks the gaudiest retro hairdos and cars of the early 90s and embellishes them. Names and locations are in neon colors and hippie fonts and the entire picture looks a bit like an aged newspaper; browns, yellows, and a ton of clouded soft light from windows and lamps fill each scene.

Even better, there are a ton of known comedians in this film like Joel McHale (The Soup), Scott Adsit, Andrew Daly, Patton Oswalt, Bob Zany, and Tony Hale (Buster from Arrested Development). Oddly, they all play very regular, unfunny characters. Yet, by just being there, they lighten the mood. Early 90s actors like Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap), Thomas F. Wilson (Bif from Back to the Future) and Clancy Brown (Highlander) also pop up to remind us this is an earlier time. It's still hard to accept the 90s as a nostalgic era of the past. I guess that means I'm finally starting to get old.

The Informant! is a great film, and lends itself to repeated viewings. Though it's shot so that we follow Mark Whitacre, and hear his thoughts, Steven Soderbergh never lets the audience in on Mark's secrets, that is until they're exposed to everyone. See this one in the theaters if you get the time.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

(Update: Spelled Whitacre's name wrong. This has been corrected. Sorry about that.)

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