Mark Whitacre—played by Matt Damon in an Oscar-worthy character turn—is an up-and-comer at the Archer Daniels Midland company who puts his rising stock on the line when he turns informant for the FBI, exposing ADM's multinational price-fixing scheme. Apparently, Whitacre thought he would be seen in a different light and even get a promotion for pulling the plug on the misbehavior. But when the FBI requires that he wear a wire to gain key evidence, his whole world falls apart, along with the investigation, as it's revealed that Whitacre has been dipping into the corporate cookie jar. This, and other weird stuff, means trouble for the FBI agents on the case (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale), who become frustrated by their informant's overactive imagination. In other words, they can't tell when this guy is telling the truth.
If this case had not been documented, it would be hard to buy the events as they play out here, as the film jumps from 1992 to 1996, chronicling Whitacre's unusual course of action. That director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, working from a book by Kurt Eichenwald, keep the tone light and satirical sets the film apart from others of its ilk. It doesn't take itself seriously at all but packs a real punch anyway.
Damon has never been better, nailing Whitacre for the bipolar personality he so clearly is. The actor looks like he's having a great time; his performance is exquisitely timed and never showy. He sets a rhythm that at first seems mannered, but what slowly emerges is a three-dimensional portrait of a corporate gadfly who lets his ego and ambition blind him to reality. Oddly enough, Damon's work here is helped immensely by composer Marvin Hamlisch's sprightly score, which perfectly matches the film's black comedy.
As the agents, Bakula and McHale are amusing throughout. In addition to a large, if underused, supporting cast of pros, it seems as if Soderbergh has cast every comic available in bit parts. It's fun spotting standups from Patton Oswalt to Jimmy Brogan to (in separate scenes) the Smothers Brothers. The director obviously wanted to keep things lively and fun and helped his cause by getting inventive with the enormous cast.
"The Informant" is a simply sensational and scandalously hilarious motion picture that marks a welcome return to form for Soderbergh. It's a triumph for the director and for Damon.
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Joel McHale, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey