Corporate crime bipolar disorder and corn

Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! is great!

Like the breathless narration about corn’s importance during its opening scene The Informant! manages to infuse its real-life subjects with a manic energy that is simultaneously giddy and vaguely uncomfortable. Based on the real-life case of a highly placed whistleblower named Mark Whitacre who exposed a massive price-fixing conspiracy and subsequently self-destructed under the weight of his bipolar disorder director Steven Soderbergh’s latest film is a comedy that draws its strength from aggressively grinning at the weight of its tragedy. In Whitacre’s bipolar disorder Soderbergh has found a perfect formula for dark comedy.

The movie begins with Whitacre (Matt Damon) at the top of his game a man with a loving wife an obscene variety of sports cars and a plum position with an agribusiness company. When the spectre of industrial sabotage threatens the company’s lysine (a derivative of corn) production however the arrival of an FBI agent (Scott Bakula) sets a five-year-long battle with corporate crime into motion. But in a seemingly simple case of white hats and black hats Whitacre soon turns out to be hiding more and more and more….

The film’s soundtrack drips with irony. Every awkward moment and there are many is punctuated by idyllic instrumentals not unlike the opening theme for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia one of the most deliberately offensive shows on television. A running commentary track in Whitacre’s mind produces a constant stream of anecdotes and observations all vaguely related to the events at hand but disconnected by their mania. Something isn’t quite right with our hero and it’s not all to do with the stress of working undercover to expose a lysine price-fixing scheme.

The movie’s title says it all crying out with an emphasis that’s over-the-top enough to be charming but odd enough to be off-putting. Scott Z. Burns who co-wrote the screenplay for The Bourne Ultimatum turns a vaguely paunchy middle-aged biochemist into a man with delusions of heroism and Damon plays wonderfully against the type he established in the Bourne series. His Whitacre feels like a corporate schlep who truly believes that a Jason Bourne-like master schemer lies hidden in his mind.

Like a manic game of limbo The Informant! challenges Whitacre to go lower and lower every new level more shocking than the last. The result is a plot based mainly on retreading familiar ground with increasing intensity which doesn’t make the scenes very dynamic compared end-to-end. But for audiences willing to follow Whitacre down The Informant! is a black comedy with a tinge of sunny energy driving through it.

Whether that energy is the result of a man with deep-seated mental issues or of a film that doesn’t mind pressing the juxtaposition of mania and tragedy for all it’s worth the result is the same: The Informant! is great!