Back To The 90's, And The Recesses Of A Disturbed Mind
Damon put on 30 pounds, strapped on a toupee and grew a mustache in "The Informant!"
(Warner Bros. Pictures)
Hot actors love to get frumpy for movies, and critics love them for doing it. Charlize Theron was a mulletted serial killer in "Monster," Nicole Kidman had a giant plastic proboscis in "The Hours," and Matt Damon creeped his way to a Golden Globe in "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
Now he's doing it again in the "Informant!", for which he put on 30 pounds, strapped on a toupee and grew a mustache that would put Burt Reynolds to shame. But seeing him rendered barely recognizable by the physical transformation is far from the film's main draw.
Steven Soderbergh, building on his legacy of nearly-true stories ("Erin Brokovich" and "Traffic"), directs another compelling tale of greed gone awry, this time going heavy on both the humor and the psychological melodrama. In doing so, he makes what would otherwise be an unwatchably dull film about mid-90s white-collar crime into a riveting dark comedy.
The plot unfolds fast, and it's a bit hard to keep up. Mark Whitacre (Damon) is a high-ranking biochemist at Archer Daniels Midland, an Illinois-based food conglomerate. Prompted by some self-aggrandizing inner motivations, he confesses to the FBI that ADM is fixing prices in collusion with its competitors, telling agents that he simply wants to bring the truth to light. When they decide to plant him as a mole within the company, Whitacre begins taping hundreds of conversations and meetings with ADM executives, leading the agents to a successful bust of ADM heads. But when it becomes clear that the ADM lawsuit will only hurt Whitacre, he spills new confessions that change the game entirely.
Damon carries the film, effortlessly pulling off the role of a Midwestern family man just looking for a little recognition. He's as versatile as he is believable, portraying corn-fed innocence and disturbing deceit in the same breath. Through his eyes, we see both the struggle to find good in a corrupt world and the cringe-inducing discomfort of watching lies unravel.
The supporting cast accent him brilliantly, as you'd expect from comedians playing straight-faced lawyers. There are notable performances by "The Soup's" Joel McHale and by Tony Hale, "Arrested Development's" Buster Bluth. (He's not as neurotic, but he still grabs his ears when he's flustered).
Soderbergh's keen eye for design detail also makes the movie strangely enchanting. Even the fuzzy polyester chairs could have adorned any mid-level office in 1992.
Some of the film's most rewarding moments are Whitacre's non-sequitur inner monologues, which are sprinkled to give depth to his character. At times philosophical and at times plainly hilarious, they make him a sympathetic protagonist to the bitter end.
Even more gratifying, given the events of the past year, is seeing all those corporate misdeeds come to justice. If there's one clear winner in the movie, it's government oversight. If only we had known that in the days of ill-fitting seersucker suits and MS-DOS computers.