In a year of trilingual Basterds and three-dimensional Avatars, it’s easy to miss The Informant! The film stars a bloated Matt Damon, portraying a the real-life price fixing scandal within ADM, a business that manages the sale and distribution of corn product. The subject is nothing short of vital. This type of business dealing has put a dent in our culture over the last decade. Instead of serving up an earnest dish of ironic criticism, Soderbergh throws a pie in our face. He reveals the best comedy of 2009.
Soderbergh reminds me of King Vidor in more ways than one. His visual style isn’t intrusive, but there is a steady tendency toward the unexpected in the editing room. He relishes in the most misshapen moments, even if they blow by. Most importantly, Soderbergh seems to engage in the same “one for me, one for them,” philosophy that governed Vidor’s production schedule. Of course, in these days it’s much easier to badger folks for money, but Soderbergh does have a tight list of trusting supporters that aren’t likely to keep the pen in their pocket. His visual style bends toward popularity at the same time as being distinctive. His edits have a unique rhythm — offbeat but comprising some sort of pattern that deserves surrender. People aren’t slaves inside of their environments, but they are less knowing than we are. Soderbergh loves that type of man — the one that seems in control when they rarely are.
Damon plays Whitacre with dizzy aptitude. We are only exposed to his process one layer at a time. Indeed, The Informant! is a film that deserves multiple viewings if I’ve ever seen one. Damon is convincing and oblivious at the same time. His capability for perpetual lying is made shameful but not without some understanding. From the beginning of the film, the audience is allowed inside of his head. We hear his streaming ribbon of thought as some kind of bored voice-over. Whitacre continues to interject throughout the film, often distracting us from critical business moments that we’re not supposed to catch. It’s outrageous and absolutely hilarious in each manifestation. The entire layout of this character banks on amusement and gravity. This doesn’t even consider the awake, opportunist score from EGOT recipient Marvin Hamlisch. Soderbergh commits, even when he is uneasy or staggered, to a nuanced approach. Especially here, where he could have accepted any number of straight-faced interpretations of a contemporary tragic hero, the audience is given an amusing sequence of events that, in the end, forces us to reflect on corporate business with more concern and immediacy than any dramatic production. The Informant! passes along a rare type of comedic narration that, in small bites, has worked like a charm for any nominal summer blockbuster. However, when a film carries that naiveté through to the end, everyone becomes frightened and critical.
This film deserved far more praise than it ever received. On subsequent viewings, it holds up as the most original and vital comedy of 2009.