He can't pass a leaf without deconstructing it.

The Informant!

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            The exclamation point was mandatory. Director Steven Soderbergh owed us a warning that ďThe Informant!Ē would be different from other corporate malfeasance movies. True story it may be, but the nature of the movieís whistle blower and the actor who creates him make it a first rate dark comedy.

            As Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) reveals his true nature ever so slowly, we begin to understand we havenít seen his like before. The part of this oddball corporation man called for a very good actor and, wearing 40 extra pounds and a car salesmanís mustache, Matt Damon is very good.

            75,000 people live in Decatur, Illinois, and many of them work for Archer Daniels Midland, the agricultural behemoth that makes lysine and citric acid, two ubiquitous food additives in the American diet. Corn and soybeans make up the soul of this town that gives so many a living. At the top of the pyramid is the Andreas family, father and son Ė CEO and heir apparent.

            Vice President Mark Whitacre begins his self-revelation in scene #1 as he lectures his young son about corn while driving through the endless fields of it that surround Decatur. We quickly realize that we will watch one aspect of Mark Whitacre interact with colleagues and another who drops his stream-of-consciousness mental ramblings gently into the narratorís slot. Mark, you see, is a bio-chemist with an engineerís mind that sees the world in its infinite details. He is fascinated by the constant interplay of chemical interactions around us. He wanders from commentaries on his own physical strengths and personal habits to butterflies to steam that rises from pools. He canít pass a leaf without deconstructing it.

            I will not be the spoiler of this plot so letís just say that you will follow the company executives through their crimes to the resulting punishments for wire fraud, price fixing and money laundering. But your pleasure will lie in watching Mark Whitacre proudly describing why he is the white hat hero among all the villains. His certitude about his role in the fraud is as absolute as his house of cards is rickety.

            In the movieís weakest link, the corpora te suits are indistinguishable, one from the other, to the point where we can see them only as a collective symbol. Markís wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) is fine as a prim, loyal wife under a bouffant wig who speaks in a timid little voice that hides a will of iron. See if you can figure out why so many characters wear wigs in this oddly engrossing movie. I couldnít.

            It is impossible to look away from Matt Damonís Mark Whitacre. His strange biochemistís mind tracks both his career and the world around him in layers of observation that work for his internal self but become, in the real world, self-defeating. His engine runs on his own perfect logic. Is he heading for a cliff or will the world around him realize how right he is?


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