Sunday, October 4, 2009



Actors are the only people who don’t want actors to be properly labeled and categorized. We like knowing Matt Damon will always be Bourne again.

Damon doesn’t like it, though. He wants to be like Russell Crowe, disappearing into a gladiator’s armor one year, then reappearing the next time in a distressed corporate wonk’s wrinkled shirt and sagging tie.

Damon could have played Jason Bourne forever, and made everyone happy. But nooo He’s got to gain weight, become a pudge with a mousy moustache and walk around in front of the camera while spouting nonsense about guys who take their style cues from pop culture.

We’re talking “The Informant!,” directed by Steven Soderbergh, another cinema figure who refuses to keep directing the same movie over and over. What is wrong with these men? Don’t they know life is supposed to be repetitious and predictable?

Why should their careers be any different from the rest of us? Not even Michael Jordan got to change career sports and still be successful.

So here we are at the beginning of “The Informant!” amazed at how Matt Damon is so unrecognizable in his role as Mark Whitacre, a harried vice-president at Archer Daniels Midland (the agri-business giant deep in the controversial corn syrup game). Whitacre is an actual person, the subject of Kurt Eichenwald’s book about America’s highest-ranking corporate whistle-blower, “The Informant: A True Story.”

That sounds like a good place to find an inspiring film about bringing down a modern-day Goliath. Only, Soderbergh has other ideas. He turns the true story into a comedy so off-the-wall we have no idea where the truth is or what the jokes are.

Damon is happy to play along with Soderbergh, eager to prove he has real acting chops. That there is more to his talent than looking good in tailored suits while from escaping tight spots without breaking a sweat.

Instead of guts and glamour, we get Damon looking like a farm belt car salesman. Near the movie’s end, he is holding clandestine meetings in hamburger diners. A far cry from the clandestine meetings he held in elegant restaurants at the begining.

The gist of the story is that Whitacre first goes to the FBI because he begins feeling guilty about rampant price-fixing among the international giants of food processing. Just like James Bond (but without a gun) Whitacre goes undercover, wearing a wire, carrying a hidden recording device, feeling squeezed by the feds on one side and the bosses he is betraying on the other.

But unlike those Cold War spies who could come in from the cold, Whitacre has no escape valve to push. He just gets in deeper and deeper as the FBI agent played by Scott Bakula keeps demanding more convincing evidence. After an hour or so, the tables begin to turn. Whitaker may not be who we thought he was.

The FBI misplays its hand and we suckers in the audience who trusted the picture to play it straight start feeling duped, as well. Meanwhile, the unrepentant Soderbergh never looks back.

He keeps pushing the story further and further into left field until “The Informant!” stops feeling like a hit and becomes a foul ball.


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