Matt Damon has matured into one of our most versatile—and daring—screen actors, and he’s on top of his game in The Informant!, the wacky new film from ever-unpredictable Steven Soderbergh. It is, at once, an incredible true story of one man’s attempt to expose corporate wrongdoing, and a straight-faced parody of whistle-blower stories like The Insider. So how exactly do you tell a (mostly) real-life story and…
make fun of it at the same time? I don’t know, but somehow Soderbergh, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, and his willing cast pull it off.
In a movie like this, creating and maintaining the proper tone is crucial. The use of an exclamation point in the main title is our first hint; the second is an onscreen explanation of the (somewhat) true story we’re about to see. The icing on the cake is a jaunty, overemphatic, retro-style score by Marvin Hamlisch that evokes everything from 60s Hollywood caper yarns to earnest educational films. It’s great fun to listen to.
The material itself is pretty amazing. Mark Whitacre was a highly-paid scientist-turned-executive at a mighty agricultural corporation in the 1990s who agreed to turn spy for the FBI. In the movie, the Feds (led by a wonderfully sober-faced Scott Bakula) can’t believe their good fortune as Whitacre becomes a gung-ho informant…but it turns out there’s more to him than meets the eye. I won’t reveal any of the film’s many surprises by telling more of the plot.