The Informant! (2009)

The Informant! (2009)
  • Time: 108 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Steven Soderbergh
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey


Mark Whitacre has worked for lysine developing company ADM for many years and has even found his way into upper management. But nothing has prepared him for the job he is about to undertake – being a spy for the FBI. Unwillingly pressured into working as an informant against the illegal price-fixing activities of his company, Whitacre gradually adopts the idea that he’s a true secret agent. But as his incessant lies keep piling up, his world begins crashing down around him.


  • This film, it claims, is based on a true story. Mark Whitacre works for a company called ADM developing lysine, a by-product of corn. He has worked himself into upper management and is now in a position to see how things really work. He doesn’t like what he sees and goes to the FBI making allegations of price fixing. The FBI look into his allegations but need more proof and it is here that Whitacre takes a bit of a turn. He now seems reluctant to continue and his FBI contact, Brian Shepard, has to persuade him to do the right thing. Little does he realise he’s just at the beginning of a long journey with many unexpected twists and turns. I won’t say any more for fear of giving away too much.

    This is a very well made film, with all the panache you’d expect from Steven Soderbergh. Great attention to detail throughout, the story begins in the early 1990’s and you really feel they’ve made an effort to get the feel and look of the period. Great performances all round, particularly from Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre and Scott Bakula as Brian Shepard. Honourable mentions must also go to Joel McHale as FBI Special Agent Bob Herndon and Melanie Lynskey as Ginger Whitacre.

    Over all, it’s a pretty good film that doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. I found the plot a little too complicated and it all seems a bit too ludicrous to have been based on fact, although I’d love to be proved wrong on that! More could have been made of Mark’s mental state which would have made the plot make a bit more sense. Not a bad film for all that, it has its problems, but still, recommended.

    My score: 6/10

  • Steven Soderbergh’s easy-going and quirky take on an unbelievably true story about Mark Whitacre and his exploits to expose his company’s unlawful methods to cheat consumers of their money may not be one of the year’s best pictures, but it is a film which ends the decade in similar fashion to how he started it with the lovable Erin Brockovich (2000). The Informant! shares several themes with the Julia Roberts vehicle, most notably the one on “the thinking civilian versus the evil corporation”.

    Starring Matt Damon who puts on weight for his role as Mark, The Informant! dwells into the psyche of Mark as he rages war with the heads of his company, the FBI, and the law with his brand of lies and half-truths, or maybe he is telling the truth. It is impossible to separate fact from fiction in this sneaky tale of deceit and mind games.

    Damon could be nominated for his second acting Oscar (after Good Will Hunting, 1997) if this picture gains momentum from clever marketing or the Soderbergh brand name. His performance is highly engaging, and he eases into a non-action role with the confidence of seasoned drama veteran.

    The screenplay can be described as snaking with many twists and turns as Damon’s character pleasurably frustrates us with his all too convoluted plan of double-crosses and what not. The key word here is “pleasurably”. It is without doubt, an intelligent screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, one which keeps us at the edge of our seats (in the mental-stimulating sense). Is Mark too clever for his own good? Or is he just plain stupid?

    Besides being a light-hearted character piece, The Informant! is also a “serious spy parody” during most of the film’s scenes involving Mark working for the FBI to bring down his company’s board of directors. Hilarious moments ensue as he finds it mentally-straining to cope with ‘spy work’ especially when he is not trained for the job.

    This creates a dual personality in Mark – one trying to help the FBI to dig deeper into a possible international conspiracy involving price-fixing, and the other trying to dig a way out of the same FBI investigation in which he may be a possible suspect.

    Soderbergh keeps The Informant! upbeat by accompanying the visuals to jazzy and cheezy music by the great Marvin Hamlisch, a throwback to the 1970s expressive style and the screwball comedies of the silent era. The Informant! leaves a smile on the face not because it is outstanding filmmaking but because its story is the epitome of incredulity. Not one of Soderbergh’s best works, but it is a respectable effort nonetheless.

    GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
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