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Case Number 18387

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The Informant!

Warner Bros. // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // February 23rd, 2010

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Editor's Note

Our review of The Informant! (Blu-Ray), published February 23rd, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

Based on a tattle-tale

Opening Statement

The Informant! coasted in and out of theatres last year without breaking much of a financial sweat. Part of the problem was definitely the marketing campaign, which appeared to present the picture as a loony comedy set within the corporate environment. The Informant! is definitely zanier than most mainstream films, but it's not really about the laughs and is a good deal less goofy than previews suggested. I feel pretty much the same way about the film as I did after seeing it for the first time in theatres; it's an average production but with a stunningly well-realized central performance. I can't flat out recommend The Informant!, but Matt Damon's acting is pretty special.

Facts of the Case

Based on remarkable real life events, The Informant! is the story of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum). As the result of a less important corporate concern, Mark ends up confessing to the FBI that the company he works for is illegally price fixing. In order to try and spare his own neck, Mark co-operates with the government and turns informer, making tape after tape in company meetings so as to provide the FBI with evidence. However as time goes by and the investigation thickens, some of Mark's stories and actions don't weigh up, leaving others to suspect the informer knows more than he's letting on.

The Evidence

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, The Informant! does actively try to do something interesting with the material at hand. The problem is that it sort of fails. Damon's leading performance keeps it perfectly watchable, but the film isn't as memorable as it ought to be. The story is an amazing real life affair, and Soderbergh's direction could never be described as flat or generic; so why is it The Informant! is something of a non-event?

Firstly, the pacing isn't tight enough. Even at 108 minutes, the movie lingers for at least a quarter hour too long. Had The Informant! been trimmed a little more aggressively or bulked up slightly to include more interesting supporting characters, it would undoubtedly be a stronger picture. As it is and given the content, the film feels stretched and pushed beyond its ideal length. If Soderbergh was aiming for a zippy film, he's failed; The Informant! starts to drag long before it finishes.

Bar the character of Mark, nobody else in The Informant! is given much of a soul, which is a pity given the plethora of supporting figures the story requires. Melanie Lynsky (Heavenly Creatures) comes close to making Mark's wife a well-rounded and sympathetic character, but the screenplay ultimately cheats her. The same applies for actors like Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, and Tom Papa, who get sizable parts but no proper depth. It's disappointing that Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns have neglected to beef up the supporting characterizations because that would have undoubtedly provided The Informant! with added emotional and comic fire. The film is certainly an intelligent and thoughtful examination of corporate shenanigans, but it fails to convince as enjoyable entertainment. The tone occasionally suggests a jump into silly waters (the 0014 line is ludicrously broad) but more often than not The Informant! has its eye set on darker and more substantial angles. Had the film been willing to focus exclusively on one of these comic moods, I expect it would be a better production; as it stands The Informant! distracts with its indecisive tone.

Visually the movie has a sun-soaked look and a tendency to fall back on goofy quirks and ticks. I enjoyed the score courtesy of Marvin Hamlisch on its own merits but as part of the whole, it doesn't seem to fit. The music is energetic and funky but against the more peculiar and darker sections of the film it feels really out of place and oddly unnecessary. The Informant! is simply a clunky motion picture that can't attain a smooth rhythm as the story progresses. The jumps from broad-faced joking to corporate espionage all the way to the courtroom finish just don't feel right, leaving the film as a confused curiosity. The video transfer is very strong and brings the visual flourishes and individual look nicely to the small screen. However the only added value on this disc is found in a series of deleted scenes, a few of which are admittedly quite good. In many ways the reaction I had to the excised material nicely sums up how I feel about the film as a whole. There are many separate things to respect and enjoy about The Informant! but when strung together, the enterprise feels awkward and underwhelming. Mores the pity I suppose.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Matt Damon is totally electrifying here. The man's performance is a showcase for his charisma and range; it's hard to believe the guy portraying this nebbish businessman was until a few years ago kicking ass and taking names as the physically intimidating Jason Bourne. Damon turns Mark into a completely believable character and imbues him with a rash of subtle physical mannerisms. He also handles the superb inner monologues well and easily gives The Informant! its biggest and most impressive laughs. Finally as the character evolves, so too does Damon's nuanced turn; there is nothing repetitive or stale about his work here. In truth, without a performance of this quality The Informant! would be bordering on irredeemable, but with Damon onboard it's flawed yet tolerable.

Closing Statement

Matt Damon is the vital factor here and he gives a performance exceptional enough to nearly make the project work. However, "nearly" is the key word and as it stands The Informant! is okay but nothing more.

The Verdict

Not Guilty on the basis of Damon's work, but be warned: this is a pretty problematic film. Give it a rental, but I wouldn't bother adding this disc to your DVD collection.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 89
Audio: 85
Extras: 77
Acting: 88
Story: 76
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Crime
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes


• IMDb
• Cinema Verdict Review

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