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Movie Review: The Informant

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

The Informant DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Have you ever told a lie, that lead to another lie, that lead to a deception, circling back on itself until you’ve landed in the center of a small, intricately woven web of falsity? Usually, these moments compound quickly, in a blur of deceit, and when the dam finally breaks, you’re left exposed and embarrassed – half by the truth you didn’t want told and half by your ridiculous inability to tell it. Well, try to maintain that endless series of lies for more than a decade and you’ll perhaps feel something like whatever Mark Whitacre must have felt while leading the FBI into a corporate price-fixing investigation entirely of his own design.

Such is Steven Soderbergh’s, The Informant!

A mid-level executive at a corporation called ADM, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) works to ensure the continued good sales of the company’s popular food additives, but when a mishap in the lab begins to cost the company significant amounts of money and threatens Whitacre’s job, the mustachioed quasi-Everyman simply invents, out of thin air, a Japanese corporate blackmailer to whom he assigns the blame. Enter the FBI, who might easily have caught on to Whitacre’s deception had he not, in turn, spun yet another series of lies which propelled him into being the government’s key witness and undercover informant in a massive corporate conspiracy case. And like all good con-jobs, Whitacre built his lies upon half-truths. There was, indeed, a price-fixing scheme in place, but the laughable audacity with which Whitacre lead investigators through the ranks, deflecting attention from his own involvement – and subsequent embezzlement – is worthy of a standing ovation.

The Informant! is a one-man show, carried completely by the strength of Damon’s tremendously effective performance. Whitacre, for all intents and purposes, should be a hugely unlikeable guy, but Damon lends the character a sense of kamikaze bravado and wide-eyed whimsy that makes it impossible not to feel at least slightly sympathetic toward him. From the paunchy mid-section to the ridiculous hairpiece, Whitacre seems like the kind of guy trying desperately to move up and be taken seriously in the corporate world. Despite the fact that the film just barely touches upon his back-story, one imagines him to have been the atypical nerd, picked-on and ridiculed for much of his life, eventually realizing that his only real talent is the ability to weave stories and manipulate people. It feels, in a sense, like the comical, white-collar version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, about a marginalized character who, in an effort to appear like a more substantial, important person, builds a pyramid of lies that eventually leads to his own tragi-comic downfall.

But then something happens: an FBI raid and a revelation about Whitacre that drains the audience of any remaining sympathy they might have developed for the man. He becomes, over the course of the film’s burdensome third act, little more than a thief and a liar. The joke wears thin; the deceit becomes tedious. And while the turn may be an intentional attempt to demonstrate how easily these lies keep coming, yet how heavily they weigh, it becomes equally frustrating for the audience, who’ve been laughing along steadily for 90 minutes and are eventually handed, in the last 30, a rather uninvolving, if marginally quirky, drama.

Soderbergh’s direction is, of course, incredibly confident and until that meandering third act, he balances both character and comedy to near perfection. For a film about corporate America and price-fixing, The Informant! is never boring, due in large part to the supporting cast that Soderberg has amassed. Interestingly, he chooses to cast comedians in rather straightforward side-roles – Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Dick Smothers and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale being among the view. The Soup’s Joel McHale has perhaps the largest of these roles as one of Whitacre’s two FBI handlers, the other being Scott Bakula, who likely delivers more laughs than his comedian counterpart.

Overall, The Informant! starts out strong and burns out just shy of the finish line, but Soderbergh’s direction and Damon’s performance are enough to make this a wildly watchable character study that’ll keep you laughing through much of the runtime. While it might not be a masterpiece, it’s certainly worthy of an evening at the theater. We promise. After all, we’d never lie to you.


New Movie Releases: September 18, 2009

Friday, September 18th, 2009

These are the movies arriving in a theater near you, this Friday.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Synopsis:
Aspiring inventor Flint Lockwood is the socially awkward genius behind some of the most bizarre contraptions ever conceived. But even though all of his inventions, from spray-on shoes to a monkey thought translator, have been spectacular failures that caused trouble in his small town, Flint is determined to create something that will make people happy.

When Flint’s latest machine, designed to turn water into food, accidentally destroys the town square and rockets up into the clouds, he thinks his inventing career is over. Until something amazing happens—cheeseburgers start raining from the sky. His machine actually works! The food weather is an instant success, and Flint forges a fast friendship with Sam Sparks, the weathergirl who comes to town to cover what she calls “the greatest weather phenomenon in history.”

But when people greedily ask for more and more food, the machine starts behaving erratically, unleashing spaghetti tornadoes and giant meatballs. With the town about to be buried beneath mountains of marshmallows and waves of watermelons, it’s up to Flint and Sam to use their combined expertise to shut down the machine and put everything right.

Inspired by the beloved children’s book.

Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Mr. T, Tracy Morgan; Directed By: Chris Miller, Phil Lord

Jennifer’s Body

Jennifer's Body DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Synopsis:
Demon possession, devilish cheerleaders, and Satanic rock stars are all on the chopping block with this horror comedy from the production team behind Juno. Screenwriter Diablo Cody provides the script, with producing duties handled by Jason Reitman and Dan Dubiecki. The story centers on an impish high-school student (Amanda Seyfried) who has to protect her town against her best friend, Jennifer (Megan Fox), who after being bedeviled by an evil rock band, develops a taste for human flesh. Girlfight’s Karyn Kusama directs the Fox Atomic production.

Cast: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Adam Brody, Josh Emerson; Directed by: Karyn Kusama

Love Happens

Love Happens DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Synopsis:
Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston star in the romantic drama “Love Happens.” When a self-help author arrives in Seattle to teach a sold-out seminar, he unexpectedly meets the one person who might finally be able to help him help himself.

Dr. Burke Ryan (Eckhart) is on the precipice of a major multimedia deal, but the therapist who asks his patients to openly confront their pain is secretly unable to take his own advice.

Eloise Chandler (Aniston) has sworn off men and decided to focus on her floral business. However, when she meets Burke at the hotel where he’s speaking, there is an instant attraction. But will two people who have met the right person at exactly the wrong time be able to give love another chance?

As each struggles with the hurt of love and loss, they realize that in order to move forward, they need to let go of the past. And if they can, they’ll find that, sometimes, love happens when you least expect it.

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, Judy Greer, Joe Anderson, John Carroll Lynch, Martin Sheen; Directed by: Brandon Camp

The Informant

The Informant DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Synopsis:
A rising star in the agricultural industry suddenly turns whistleblower in hopes of gaining a lucrative promotion and becoming a hero of the common people, inadvertently revealing his penchant for helping himself to the corporate coffers and ultimately threatening to derail the very investigation he helped to launch in this offbeat comedy from Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh. Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was fast rising through the ranks at agri-industry powerhouse Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) when he became savvy to the company’s multinational price-fixing conspiracy, and decided to turn evidence for the FBI. Convinced that he’ll be hailed as a hero of the people for his efforts, Whitacre agrees to wear a wire in order to gather the evidence needed to convict the greedy money-grabbers at ADM. Unfortunately, both the case — and Whitacre’s integrity — are compromised when FBI agents become frustrated by their informant’s ever-shifting account, and discover that he isn’t exactly the saintly figure he made himself out to be. Unable to discern reality from Whitacre’s fantasy as they struggle to build their case against ADM, the FBI watches in horror as the highest-ranking corporate bust in U.S. history threatens to implode before their very eyes. Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, and Melanie Lynskey co-star.

Cast: Matt Damon, Joel McHale, Scott Bakula, Mike O’Malley, Andrew Daly, Adam Paul, Melanie Lynskey, Tom Wilson, Rick Overton, Tom Papa, Candy Clark; Directed By: Steven Soderbergh


The Informant

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

The Informat DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Release date: Friday September 18, 2009
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns
Producer(s): Gregory Jacobs, Howard Braunstein, Jennifer Fox, Kur Eichenwald
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey
Official Site: theInformantmovie.com
Rating: R for language
Available film art: The Informant movie posters

Synopsis
What was Mark Whitacre thinking? A rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Whitacre suddenly turns whistleblower. Even as he exposes his company’s multi-national price-fixing conspiracy to the FBI, Whitacre envisions himself being hailed as a hero of the common man and handed a promotion. But before all that can happen, the FBI needs evidence, so Whitacre eagerly agrees to wear a wire and carry a hidden tape recorder in his briefcase, imagining himself as a kind of de facto secret agent. Unfortunately for the FBI, their lead witness hasn’t been quite so forthcoming about helping himself to the corporate coffers. Whitacre’s ever-changing account frustrates the agents and threatens the case against ADM as it becomes almost impossible to decipher what is real and what is the product of Whitacre’s rambling imagination. Based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.


 
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