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INFORMANT, THE !

SYNOPSIS:
Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) has worked for giant lysine developing company ADM for many years and found his way into upper management. But nothing has prepared him for the job he is about to undertake - being a spy for the FBI. Unwillingly pressured into working as an informant against the illegal price-fixing activities of his company, Whitacre gradually adopts the idea that he's a true secret agent. But as his incessant lies keep piling up, his world begins crashing down around him.

Review by Louise Keller:
Marvin Hamlisch's music sets the tone for this fresh-as-a-daisy corporate espionage caper that delivers an entertaining truck-load of twists, turns and angles. There is no sex, but plenty of lies and video-tape in this smooth-as-silk Steven Soderbergh film (adapted from Kurt Eichenwald's book), with Matt Damon a revelation as the self-professed 'good guy' who spills the beans when the beans are made of solid gold. For the role, Damon piled on the kilos plus a rug and a mo to create a tangible and credible character with whom we are prepared to run ourselves ragged. With the same kind of energy as Soderbergh created in Ocean's 12, The Informant is great fun; a witty unpredictable script and a story that makes our heads spin.

In many ways, the film resembles a piece of music. The voice over narrative of Damon's Mark Whitacre is like a musical counterpoint; the dialogue complements but is not necessarily connected to the action. For example, while serious things are happening as Mark co-operates with the FBI to prove corporate price fixing, his narrative contemplates butterflies, woollen jumpers, indoor pools and the habits of polar bears in their native environment. He also thinks about how much time he saves in the shower by flossing his teeth while the hair conditioner soaks in. The beauty of Scott Z. Burns' script is the depth and detail with which Damon's character is drawn. Mark is the bio-chemist running the company who wakes up one day with two lives. In his new life, he thinks of himself as 0014 (because he's twice as smart as 007).

The story slips and slides and before we know it, Mark is running rings around everyone - from his colleagues and associates to the FBI. Then come the twists as fraud, deception and lies find their way into the Justice Department. Damon heads a great cast but it's always his show and he makes it count. The brass section blows, the big band swings and the music plays like an upbeat, theatrical floor show - with pizzazz and panache.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The exclamation mark in the title is a big clue! So is the presence of Marvin Hamlisch as composer! It's his score that punctuates the film's tone, remnant of some early 90s TV series abandoned by the networks. And I mean that as a compliment. But Hamlisch apart, many of Steven Soderbergh's choices are a bit suss; the fact based material is so rich it hardly needs embellishment, yet he adds some. The story (published as a book without the exclamation mark in the title) is complicated enough, yet with writer Scott Z. Burns, he constructs a maze, piling up the elements before we have time to absorb them. The rather crude sound mix doesn't help.

Matt Damon, beefed up (hamburgered-up?) to almost roly poly dimensions, is excellent as Mark Whitaker, as is the lovely Melanie Lynskey as his wife Ginger; their performances give the film a deeper, sensitive, melancholy mood. Terrific support from Scott Bakula as the FBI agent working with Mark, indeed from the entire cast, but it isn't until the third act that we really get to grips with the whole scenario enough to ride it like a theme park adventure - which it is.

Back to Marvyn Hamlisch; Soderbergh encourages Hamlisch to be outrageously kitsch musically, using the score as a comedic device; this is pretty sophisticated stuff for a film that aims to please at the multiplex. But it's supported by the film's overall design, including title cards in a daft font in outdated purple and tragic fashions. Soderbergh feels confident enough in his cinematic chops to use the accessories as primary drivers of the storytelling style.

If you care to examine the underlying elements of this 'amazing but true' story, you find a human dimension that resonates - although it remains largely hidden under the artifice built over it. It's about a flawed, sick man who gets away with extraordinary things because he can. And pays the price. It's really a sad story, but with redeeming qualities . .

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

INFORMANT, THE ! (M)
(US, 2009)

CAST: Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula, Luca McHugh Carroll, Eddie Jemison, Rusty Schwimmer, Tom Papa, Rick Overton

PRODUCER: Kurt Eichenwald, Jennifer Fox, Gregory Jacobs, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh

SCRIPT: Scott Z. Burns (book by Kurt Eichenwald)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)

EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione

MUSIC: Marvin Hamlisch

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Doug J. Meerdink

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 3, 2009







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