Sep 18, 2009

On The Informant!

A small movie writ large on billboards and bus ads, The Informant! is no Erin Brockovich and that’s meant as a compliment. As confounding as any Soderbergh film since Schizopolis, it’s not even risky for a studio to drop it, with the nationwide roll out and the bought and paid for fanfare, late in September, like its Bourne 7. Of course, Archer-Daniels-Midland are scum. Not like Warners really cares, which is why this oddly topical movie given our impending food crisis doesn’t mention a whiff of what it's really about in its beautifully constructed marketing campaign. Who would have ever thought big agribusiness/biotech price fixing would make for high end postmodern deconstruction of the Corporate Espionage Thriller bankrolled and P&A’d with studio checks?

This is the release you earn by making enough smart, semi-bankable high-end studio product in between your arty clunkers and genuine successes. Of course, it must have Matt Damon. A savvy casting move in both the commercial and aesthetic realms (not a thrown away beat the whole film, a whole, satisfying performance, every bit as good as his continents apart but oddly similar Tom Ripley), Soderbergh’s real coups are his deft 80s TV pastiche (Scott Bakula and music right out of Magnum P.I.), his feel for Midwestern mores (a place where sweetheart sociopaths bloom and the protestant work ethic lives on) and his this is real life or simply a Zodiac/Sexybeast mash up place and time inter titles, thrown at us in a zany pink that’s tackier that Mark Whitacre’s ties.

Damon’s voice over proves Mr. Whitacre to be the most amusing and thoroughly American unreliable narrator in recent cinematic memory. I’ll take him as my whistle blower over Jeffery Wigand any day, even if it’s harder to buy Damon with a gut than it is Russell Crowe. The respectively Corporate and Legal thrillers of Michael Crichton and John Grisham prove to be our unselfconscious protag’s self-imposed framework for the proceedings he blunders and lies his way through. Midwestern corn syrup hawks are bound to have lousy taste in fiction.

This is not a comedy to laugh at so much as its one to grin and scoff at, resting ultimately in the satisfying if melancholy tinged knowledge that the world is as grim and cruel and yet somehow still worth fighting for as you often imagine it to be. Left to wonder what Soderbergh would have done with the baseball wonks of Moneyball, having twice rebuilt another fragile subgenre for our age of cynicism and absurdity I now call for Amy Pascal’s resignation, but I suppose we have a better shot at The Public Option clearing the retirement home for millionaires otherwise known as the US Senate.