A middle aged man, paunchy but not fat, with a mustache, wearing glasses and a hairpiece walks into an office building in a slightly too big grey suite. "Hello" he greets secretaries and colleagues. The man walks into an office, shuts the door and closes the blinds. Then he sits. What those secretaries and colleagues don't know is that he's an informant (an Informant!) and that he's wearing a wire that will provide the FBI with evidence of a price-fixing scandal in the lysine business sure to cause waves across the world. This man has a secret. This man is going behind the back of his company to expose their illegal operations, in the eyes of the law this man is a hero. This man has a family, three children, two of the adopted as he was himself. This man has made a home for himself and a place in the world based on his whits and his hard work. This man is the best of America. This man is also a liar. A pathological one. And he's real.
Steven Soderbergh's latest film The Informant! stars Matt Damon as the titular tattler. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, bio-chemist and big wig at Archer Daniels Midland, out of Decatur, Illinois and the film tells the true (I swear!) story of Whitacre's unraveling during his co-operation with the FBI. The story is real, and is thus, out there, but the film's major joy comes from the way in which Sodbergh and Bourne Ultimatum screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, working from Kurt Eichenwald's book (Eichenwald's own story is worthy of a film), parcel out more and more information about Whitacre. One way in which they acheive a state of grand misdirection is by employing Damon as Whitacre as the narrator to the film. Immediately, the audience is engaged with Whitacre and grow to identify, and like him through his stream of conscious inner monologues and veneer of the good, family man setting out to right a wrong in his life. Doing what Mark Whitacre is doing as a man in his position is noble, but it's only one facet to his life. Others come fast and hard as the film progresses, and it's best that we find those things out as the other characters in the film do. I will say though, that I never expected the 847 area code change to be a plot point in a film.
Every frame in the film is Soderbergh's, and clearly, but it is Damon's brilliant performance that is the key to the movie's success. It's a credit to Damon's ability that seeing it a second time, knowing what we know (and don't know) at the end, that the film not only holds together but becomes a deeper, richer, funnier and more intriguing study of this guy (whoever he is) who, though we hear some of his thoughts, has an entire different world inside his head, as we all do, though his is constantly spinning, identity behind identity.
One of my favorite things in the entire movie is the way Soderbergh (operating his own Red One Digital Cinema camera) does the reoccurring tracking shots of Whitacre walking into his office. They have a jitteryness to them that reminds me of '70s movies when cameras became light enough to gun it on a dolly or a Steadicam, and there's a real sense of movement and the physical effects of that movement that give the shots an energy that adds to Whitacre's stream of conscious voice over and greeting of personnel. It's almost as if Whitacre is racing to his office to be alone again with his own mind, to attend to some mental business and then get into character as a rising corporate star, a spy, a family man, a criminal, a sane human being.