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It’s About Corn

Movie Title: The Informant! (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Is it worth your time to see The Informant? Or, put another way, is seeing a detailed and accurate re-creation of the 1980s and 90s valuable to you? Is it more valuable than hearing business conversations between employees you are not among and don’t work with, conversations that are about as interesting as accounts payable lectures or the implementation of insurance policies?

Based on a true story, Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, who was vice-president of Archer Daniels Midland from 1989 to 1995, an agricultural conglomerate specializing in corn products. Mark was brought up on racketeering charges and ended up serving nearly nine years in federal prison after serving as an informant for the F.B.I. in one of the bigger corporate price-fixing cases of the 1990s.

The movie is not challenged, unlike Whitacre, the runny clump of candle wax who is the main character, a clandestine individual with sociopathic tendencies. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, The Informant is classy and sturdily constructed, with as much grace as anything produced by the likes of Ron Howard. Where it falls short is in the quality of material selected to work with (which is to say, I have absolutely no idea why a movie was made of this scandal).

The rhythm and low-grade humor are steady throughout, the products of a time-released and intelligent script. Performances by Scott Bacula as F.B.I. agent Chris Shepher and comedian Tom Papa as Mick Andreas, with The Soup’s Joel McHale as F.B.I. agent Dean Paisley, try to provide appeal, but somehow seem less than legitimate fits for their parts, much like Damon himself.

As an actor, Matt Damon is both interesting and talented. In his role as Whitacre, the word “interesting” shouldn’t be put in the same sentence with the name of the character. Whitacre would be interesting to a psychologist, but not to anyone else. Whitacre is a man more annoying than he is smart, but his wife and beautiful children can tolerate him just fine. Now, there’s just the question of whether or not you can tolerate him and the movie about him.

In Whitacre’s garage are expensive sports cars that are never driven. His home is nice. He wants to keep it. He begins to spot corruption within the inner-rankings of his company and he reacts in a way that will eventually speak volumes about who he is. When you learn more about him, you are able to appreciate him a little, but until then, you watch with interest as you wonder and wait for what could possibly go wrong in this upstanding man’s career and pursuit of a clean conscience.

What I couldn’t appreciate was Damon’s makeup job. His sudden balding at the end was inexcusably done. The makeup artist(s) should be fired. You invest yourself into an explicitly in-depth movie focusing on the life of one decadent corporation and one disturbed man who must have the social IQ of a light switch, and what do you get?

You get knowledge of one scandal and you get to see Matt Damon piss you off, if in a notably sagacious fashion.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rating: R
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Summary: The government goes after an agriculture business giant with a price-fixing accusation, based on the evidence submitted by their star witness, vice president-turned- informant, Mark Whitacre.
Starring: Matt Damon “Mark Whitacre,” Rusty Schwimmer “Liz Taylor,” Tom Papa “Mick Andreas,” Melanie Lynskey “Ginger Whitacre,” Scott Bakula “FBI Special Agent Brian Shepard,” Howie Johnson “Rusty Williams,” Joel McHale “FBI Special Agent Bob Herndon”
Genre: Comedy / Crime / Drama / Thriller
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