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The Informant! (2009)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/23/2010
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/14/2010
Get it on Blu-ray, DVD, & Download February 23rd
In my review forThe Girlfriend Experience, I wrote about how Steven Soderbergh has reached a point in his career where he alternates between mainstream big-budget movies and low-budget experimental films. When he does make those Hollywood movies, Soderbergh is able to assemble amazing casts. When the opening credits rolled for his latest movie, The Informant!, I was stymied by the familiar and diverse names listed. And a great cast equals a great movie, right?
The Informant! is set in the early 1990s and is based on a true story. Matt Damon stars as Marc Whitacre, a biochemist who is an executive for ADM, a company which makes products like high fructose corn syrup. Whitacre's latest project isn't going well, and he tells his boss (Tom Papa) that he believes that he has a saboteur on his team. Whitacre then tells his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) that he's considering going to the FBI to report that ADM is involved in price-fixing and that they are pushing certain products onto the public. She supports him, and soon, Whitacre is meeting with Agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula). At first, Whitacre talks to Shepard about trying to catch a traitor in their midst, and how a Japanese firm may be involved in this, but he soon opens up about the price fixing. Shepard is intrigued by this and asks Whitracre to become an informant. Whitacre agrees, seeing himself as a corporate spy. He begins to record meetings and conversations with his co-workers and their competitors. As Whitacre gathers more and more evidence, Shepard becomes convinced that the case will be a slam-dunk. However, Whitacre's behavior begins to become erratic. Is the pressure of being a whistle-blower getting to him?
Speaking of slam-dunks, when The Informant! opened, it had all the makings of a hit. The last time Soderbergh tackled the story of someone bucking the system, we got the award-winning Erin Brockovich. The trailer made the movie look like a lot of fun and Matt Damon has a track record of quality movies. And the movie did come in second in its opening weekend. But, its box-office take was seen as somewhat of a disappointment, and it was $20 million behind the #1 film,Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This is the kind of film which I would have expected to have a strong opening and then fall off due to mixed word-of-mouth.
Soderbergh has apparently become bored with separating his two interests and has decided to combine them into the same film. The Informant! features a cast of familiar faces, it's based on a true story, but it has definitely has an independent film vibe. The music sounds like a combination of tunes fromNapoleon Dynamite and The Newlywed Game theme. Soderbergh has shot the film so that light coming through windows is soft and over-exposed -- it looks like an 80s TV movie. The on-screen are a sort of 60s font.
The odd aesthetics of the film aside, it's the story which is both the core and the Achilles Heel of The Informant!. The movie allows Whitacre's tale to unfold at a slow pace. The story begins and then we get character development as things move along. At first, we aren't sure where Whitacre is going with his talk of the Japanese extortionist. And when he explains why he wants to report ADM to the FBI, the story sounds suspicious. And then there's the fact that he's always in a new car. As the film moves along, more and more of the truth is revealed, often in very subtle ways, and we slowly learn exactly what Whitacre is doing. The problem is that even with this slow approach, too many questions are left unanswered, and while the movie appears to think that it's wrapped everything up in a tidy conclusion at the end, the exact specifics of what has occurred will escape some viewers. (As this is based on a true story, I was able to read the real case and fill in some of the gaps.)
There are also some issues with the film's tone. At the outset, The Informant! comes across as light and comedic and Damon's portrayal of Whitacre as an energetic goober is both funny and entertaining. But as the story becomes more serious, the movie doesn't seem to know what to do with Whitacre's buoyancy and the character becomes even more uneven than he's supposed to be.
In the end, The Informant! is an interesting story, but only a moderately entertaining movie. Again, Soderbergh is treading the line between mainstream and experiment here and this approach doesn't work for this kind of story. Taking a light-hearted approach to a serious topic was a good starting point, but the movie doesn't seem to know what to do with its material or Damon's energetic performance. I would have preferred a straight-ahead docu-drama, or a completely off-the-wall film.
The Informant! expects to keep its job on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 15 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain or defects from the source material. (This was shot on HD equipment.) The transfer shows off some of Soderbergh's style choices, such as the "blown out" windows and the subdued color palette. The image is very crisp and despite some of the artistic touches, some scenes look as if you could reach in and touch the actors. The level of detail is quite good here. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.3 Mbps. This track isn't very impressive for lossless audio. The overall level is quite low and I found that I had to increase the volume much more than usual just to hear the dialogue. This let me know that the dynamic range was off-kilter, as the music became much too loud. I didn't detect any overt stereo, surround, or subwoofer effects, and at times, this sounded like a mono track. This kind of film doesn't need dazzling audio, but I should feel as if I'm listening to a Blu-ray.
The Informant! Blu-ray Disc contains only 2 special features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. The only other extra is four DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes. Three of these give more examples of Whitacre's bizarre behavior, while the last one shows a more concrete look at how ADM reacted to Whitacre.
Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long