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Informant!, The (Blu-ray Review)

22 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 2/23/10
Box Office $33.3 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language.
Stars Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey.

We’ve all known the type Matt Damon plays here: a guy who’s undeniably smart, can see correlations between disparate things that others can’t and who even has a well-developed sense of irony. Yet on the other hand, he’s just not wired together very well and is, in fact, an industrial-strength flake.

Damon just got a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, but the 2009 performance for which he’ll be more remembered came in the first Steven Soderbergh movie in an age not compromised by aren’t-we-cute smirkiness (all three “Ocean’s” capers) or designed for instant oblivion in theatrical auditoriums holding 150 seats (Full Frontal to The Good German to Che and so on). And this from a director who once pulled off a rare quality “quadruple”: Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Well, he’s mostly back.

Damon plays Mark Whitacre, the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history, but one who came with more baggage than Zsa Zsa Gabor going through customs — at least he did as portrayed via Scott Z. Burns’s tangy screenplay pared down from reporter Kurt Eichenwald’s voluminous book.

A well-paid biochemist/exec at Archer Daniels Midland — specialist in esoteric (to us) food ingredients — this bedrock Midwesterner professed to be appalled at his company’s international price-fixing chicanery while populating his own professional closets with fresh skeletons. He supplied the FBI with info but kept changing his story so much (even his personal biography was full of craters) that the Bureau came to realize it had a bottom-feeder on its hook.

The makeup artists have done something to Damon’s nose (not sure what), and the actor packed on some pounds to help make his character look as if his double life (it involves money, no surprise) is perhaps getting to him. As the increasingly bewildered FBI agent who initially trusts him, Scott Bakula gives one of the year’s most underrated straight-man performances (Tim McGraw in The Blind Side is another one), and he’s abetted by either the worst haircut of worst rug in recent memory, whose like hasn’t been since seen since the heyday of TV evangelist Ernest Angley.

Again doing his own cinematography under the pseudonym Peter Andrews, Soderbergh is smart enough to have his reasons (whatever they are) for shooting directly into a light source whenever he can. In theory, a rough look isn’t inappropriate, and one can see how he might want to make ADM headquarters look like a blandly depressing place to work.

But he takes it too far (as he did in parts of Traffic), and the theatrical presentation was the consummate eyesore of 2009 — at least in terms of movies that were otherwise good (and this one is, though it takes a while to start dancing to its odd rhythm). The bleach-out isn’t as jarring on the home version, but neither is the DVD’s fortune its face (to saying nothing of having to pay 37 bucks for a Blu-ray that looks closer to VHS).

The Informant! is recommended but makes it on witty writing, performances and Soderbergh’s ability (on those occasions the fancy strikes him) to direct up a storm.

Extras include a Soderbergh-Burns commentary.

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