On paper, The Informant! is maybe the most boring movie of the year. The script is a total snooze and director Steven Soderbergh seems to know he has nothing, so he casts most of the movie’s supporting parts with comedians and plays wacky, circus-like music with each scene; book ending them in bizarrely out of place, brightly colored title cards written in pimp-like fonts. It’s a lot like reading the dictionary after some asshole goes through it with a pen and adds exclamation marks to all the words. Learning the definition of “crepuscular” doesn’t really get more interesting by adding exciting punctuation. Crepuscular!! Of, pertaining to, or resembling twilight!!! See? Still boring.
Matt Damon plays a paunchy corporate executive, named Mark Whitacre, who sits in an office and whines endlessly about lysine production. That’s right, this is a movie about lysine production. Contain your excitement. Mark works for the mega-company ADM, where they use lysine as a way to feed chickens corn without it killing them. They do much the same to your food and lurking somewhere beneath the surface of The Informant there’s a story about the way the corrupt food industry is killing us with unnecessary chemicals. Unfortunately that story never gets out. Not even when Mark gets so fed up with things at his company that he goes to the FBI.
Calm down. It’s not the gun-toting, cloak and dagger FBI you may have seen in movies with lots of explosions. This FBI is more a bunch of friendly pencil pushers who take a liking to Mark and try to help him prove that ADM is colluding with its competitors to fix the price of lysine. Both they, and Mark, believe that he’s one of the good guys. We on the other hand, are far less sure of his intentions. Is all this corporate crime real, or is Mark making it all up so he can pretend he’s playing a game of white hats versus black hats? Much like the audience, Mark seems bored with his life and this could be just a way for him to find something to do. Maybe he should try listening to circus music. That seems to work for Soderbergh.
The Informant! soon becomes a con movie, though again not one of those exciting con movies where a charismatic character skips through life ripping off old ladies and staying one step ahead of the law. It’s more about paperwork and while Mark envisions himself as Tom Cruise in The Firm he’s more like Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary, minus all the sex and sadomasochism. Mark is so smart that eventually he outsmarts himself and there’s some earned intrigue in wondering what’s going on in his head. As the movie continues on his behavior becomes even stranger but neither that, nor the exclamation mark tacked onto the movie’s title, is enough to justify The Informant!’s existence.
Still The Informant! is well directed and the cast, comedians and all, works. Though they don’t stand up under close scrutiny, those wacky stingers do at least keep the story moving. They’re even responsible for a laugh or two. It’s as if someone wanted to make a Coen brothers movie and had everything they needed: cast, budget, musical cues and all. Everything that is, except the script. The Big Lebowski wouldn’t be The Big Lebowski without a rug to tie the room together.