The Informant! Review

“A Very Kooky Version Of The Lysine Price-Fixing Conspiracy.”

February 12th, 2011

Director Steven Soderbergh & Matt Damon reteam for this retelling of the Lysine Price-Fixing Conspiracy which garnered national attention. However, with the whole film being from one perspective, and the primary source for the film being one book, then it calls into question the accuracy of Damon's portrayal.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was president of the BioProducts Division at ADM {Archer Daniels Midland--agricultural processing plant} in Decatur Illinois. Making $350,000,000 annually, Whitacre turns unwitting whistleblower for the FBI against ADM for their price-fixing with international competitors. However, Whitacre is so naive about the reception the case will eventually get that he sincerely believes he'll be reveled as a hero by his colleagues and ascend to the presidency of the company as he'd be the highest ranked employee on the staff after the case. What follows is nearly four years of wiretapping and spying for the feds in a dark comedy which carries itself on Damon's goofy performance rather than the case itself, let alone the details. Though it's nice that it didn't get bogged down with legal jargon.

Agent Shepard (Scott Bakula) plays Whitacre's friend throughout the investigation. And I mean he 'plays' his friend as the character, trying to win over Whitacre's trust, and yet not being totally honest about the unbelievable expectations Whitacre has for himself; As nearly every person in the film he speaks of his fantasy to gives him a look that's halfway between shock and "what are you crazy?!" This further supports our perception of Whitacre's bizarre behavior in the film, as he thinks of himself as a clever secret agent, yet is one to stare directly into a hidden camera in a board room in an obvious manner. So you get the 'goofy' that I'm talking about.

Since the whole film is from Whitacre's perspective--and he's in about every scene besides a montage or two--then this leaves the whole film resting on Damon's shoulders. So if you're not a fan of Matt Damon, yet really want to learn more about this conspiracy-or don't--then don't watch this movie. You'll get no basic details on the case. Just dates and a kooky rhythm throughout that makes you wonder if this whole thing really happened the way it's portrayed. For the film was based on Kurt Eichenwald's book of the same name, in which he blames a lack of mental stability for Whitacre's irrational & illegal actions which brought the case to an unsettling end; whereas others like author James Lieber alleges that like anyone, his actions reflect his desire to exonerate himself from responsibility when it's revealed he's been dishonest about some major things which make his motives to turn whistleblower foggy at best. Regardless of anyone's caveats, the case still delivered fantastic results worth hundreds of millions of dollars. So I guess we can be happy that the good guys pulled through, or we'd still be paying extra for our basic groceries. And no, that's not a spoiler, for if they failed then it wouldn't make sense to publish a book which whistle blows a whistle blowing case, let alone make a film about it. {And the font and pink coloring for the text displaying the dates made it seem seventies rather than nineties. Odd}.

Soderbergh even cast comedians in supporting roles, such as Joel McHale as Agent Herndon, Patton Oswalt as prosecutor Ed Herbst, Eddie Jemison as Kirk Schmidt, Andrew Daley as ADM VP Marty Allison, Bob Zany as attorney John Dowd, Rick Overton as Terry Wilson, Dick Smothers as Judge Baker, and Tom Smothers as Dwayne Andreas. So a bunch of comedians in a film whose comedy mostly comes from Matt Damon. Whether this was an inside joke by Soderbergh is anyone's guess, as none of the aforementioned cast really did or said anything comical. Or maybe the joke is just that: They're not being funny.

So overall, this isn't a keeper. And it needed more details with more angles to make this a legitimate retelling of the case. But unlike David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh isn't one for accuracy or crime dramas. So Soderbergh fans will still get what they wanted out of this. But if you're like me, and don't obsess over his resume, then wait for television, as it's not worth spending a Netflix on. Or perhaps Redbox it for a buck. Yeah, that'd be a better deal.


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  • skywise • 5 years ago

    @dan1 your right about his odd style. he does these huge studio movies (2 - 3 in a row) so that he is able to do these odd little movies that i believe he has a real passion for and i respect that.

    But his oddball movies are hit or miss for me. i cant wait to see his new film tho, sounds interesting. i love killer plague movies.


    • skywise • 5 years ago

      Upon first viewing this movie i felt cheated by the misleading trailers and i was a bit irritated by that. I know that was not the directors fault as this was a hard movie to market but they definatly made it look like a comedy about a bumbling idiot. Well bumbling he was but i left the theater rather depressed at the stupidity of some people (and its a true story no less).

      However, after leaving the theater the movie stayed with me for quite some time. I did not really like this film but something about it was very unsettling and i cant quite put my finger on it.

      I am a Matt Damon fan and i think here he really played against type so i have respect for that.

      I believe this movie requires another viewing before i can really comment on the direction choices and plodding plot line.

      As always tho, a great review.


      • moviegeek • 5 years ago

        I absolutely hated this movie. I couldn't wait for it to end. Well-written review however.


        • slysnide • 5 years ago

          @dan1: Thanks. I agree somewhat about Soderbergh. I've only seen "Erin Brockovich," "Traffic," and the "Ocean's Trilogy." I've wanted to see "Che" for a long time, but I too know that it has a reputation to walk this line. And I only say 'somewhat' since I'm not too familiar with his other films. Thugh even from the looks of it, it is a bit odd.


          • dan1 • 5 years ago

            I've come to the conclusion that Soderbergh is just a strange film maker. He seems to ride that fence between comedic and serious, and then ends up with results like this. I haven't seen the movie, but from your review, I gathered that the movie seemed to tread that line, and not very effectively. Prob explains why it is considered one of his weaker efforts.

            Anyways, solid review @slysnide, I enjoyed the read, it was straight forward and a good length.


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