The Informant! (2009)

(In theatres, September 2009) If the essence of comedy is to do something new and poke fun at sacred cows, then Steven Soderbergh’s irreverent The Informant! is well on its way to hilarity.  Whistleblowers, obviously, are supposed to be tragic and noble figures.  Not, as portrayed by a surprisingly unglamorous Matt Damon, as borderline-moronic eggheads with little sense and vapid inner monologues.  The film’s initial structure is familiar, as a scientist with ethical concerns comes to work for the FBI in exposing a price-fixing conspiracy involving his corporation.  (It’s all based on real events.)  Idiotic protagonist aside, it begins as a reasonably amusing feature that seems to derive most of its comedy from decidedly mundane surroundings: Blatantly taking place in the American Midwest, The Informant! seems mostly concerned with trivia and discomfort.  But that too becomes another deception as the final act of the film gets rolling and it turns out that our protagonist has ethical problems that go far beyond being clueless.  As the snowball of his lies goes downhill, we come to realize the wisdom of the agents obsessed with figuring out his rationale for turning informant.  And, in the process, we end up with a parody of stories in which the whistleblower turns out to be clean as driven snow.  Reality, suggest Soderbergh’s film, is always more complicated.  And frequently more absurd than we can imagine.  While I can’t imagine many people thinking “Yeah, I want to watch this movie again!”, The Informant! a cheeky piece of comic subversion, especially coming from the same director as Erin Brokovich.

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