Cast: Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula
Director: Stephen Soderbergh
There are few actors who I consistently dislike, but Matt Damon is among them.
He has an unnatural and disruptive screen presence. He pings and pongs between awkward and inanimate. As a result, he struggles his way into characters with murky histories – in the case of Jason Bourne, no history whatsoever. He is everyone and no one – America’s Nowhere Man.
It is fortunate for The Informant! that it needs a Nowhere Man in its lead. Damon’s discomforting instinct fits a man who is never comfortable in his own skin. The motivations for his “heroic” actions – blowing the whistle on scandal-plagued agribusiness giant Archers Daniels Midland – start shady and become opaque and absurd. Like a good host chatting with everyone and revealing nothing, he treats us to a fascinatingly cornfed voiceover of his life, filled with comic observations on fishing and embezzlement. Soon we will see that these are filled with fictions. The Informant in this case is not a reliable informer.
In fact, The Informant is that rare thing – a film that might have a more entertaining voiceover than what’s actually on screen. Damon is a better reader than believable emoter, and its plot is a happy-go-lucky thriller on par with (sigh) watching corn grow. Admirably, it is a film with a mission. It takes the canonizing assumptions of a whistleblower movie – the unassailable virtue of the whistler – and stands them on their head. The Informant! suggests a sort of virtuous emptiness at the heart of the American character. A sophisticated take. So why did I leave the theater rubbing my forehead?
That’s sort of the rub. So far this year, Soderbergh has stylishly painted over a weak and pretentious script (The Girlfriend Experience) and underdirected an interesting one. This is Erin Brockovich style Soderbergh – laying back and letting the story do the talking. But Brokovich had an all-the-marbles do-gooder plot and star power at its heart. Not here. What directing ideas there are a little too cutesy--- the ancient computer fonts, the Marvin Hamlisch score. Soderbergh mistakes irony for style.