So Roger Ebert and Sonny Bunch were right about Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 true story crime comedy drama film, The Informant!
(Now there are two names I suspect you do not see often in the same sentence together, Ebert and Bunch!)
In his quick Letterboxd retrospective, Bunch called The Informant! “quietly, wickedly funny” and gave it 4.5/5 stars. In his 4/4 stars review, Ebert said, “as Soderbergh lovingly peels away veil after veil of deception, the film develops into an unexpected human comedy.” I completely agree with both of those reviews, including Bunch’s sentiment in his Letterboxd review that the film is underseen and underrated. Most critics and viewers seems to find this movie mediocre or only just OK. It has a 6.4/10 on IMDb, 66% on Metacritic, and a 3.2/5 on Letterboxd.
The Informant! works excellently for me. I just watched it for the first time last night but will certainly watch it again as soon as I can. I have had it on my watchlist ever since I saw a blurb on it in WORLD Magazine 12 years ago, but I had been hesitant to watch it due to the mixed reviews. I should have trusted my senses, because The Informant! is my kind of movie. The unique, dry humor had me laughing constantly throughout the film’s runtime. The cringe factor is high in a way I enjoy. The characters ring true to me, as someone who often visited this middle Midwestern area of the US growing up. The script by Scott Z. Burns is witty and exciting, as it quickly spins a web to make you feel as a viewer as closely as can be to the way the characters are feeling.
Mark Whitacre is played superbly by Matt Damon in perhaps Damon’s best role. He is a boring sort of guy on the surface. Smart and ambitious but also naive. Childish too, in temperament; at the beginning of the film, he seems to relate much better to his son than to his wife, with whom he appears to have a marriage mostly absent of sex. He is a compulsive liar and manipulative, and the unreliable narration frustrates us as the viewer much like Whitacre frustrates those around him as a person.
Most whistle-blower movies are unbearably self-righteous, but The Informant! cannot be and does not try. We only see how important Mark feels, and how righteous the FBI agents think they are. We can see by viewing them how silly many of these men become. It would take serious minds to deal well with the issues of corporate greed and abuse, not self-important, self-righteous, self-serving minds.
Come to think of it, maybe The Informant! has something insightful to say about our current moment of tyranny by corporations, of stunted growth adult children, and of activism performed by bored, political extremist wannabes.