At first glance, the new film “The Informant!” looks like a satire about big business greed, but under the surface, it’s much more.
Powered by a fantastic performance from Matt Damon, the new Steven Soderbergh-directed film is an intriguing movie that slowly unfolds to reveal a rather powerful final punch.
Based on a true story, Damon plays Mark Whitacre, an upper-level management guy developing lysine for the agriculture company ADM.
When Whitacre reports a possible extortion attempt by a client to his superior, the FBI gets involved.
The investigation takes a major turn when Whitacre reveals to agents illegal price-fixing activities of his company and is then pressured into working as an informant to help the FBI build its case.
As Whitacre continues to help the FBI, he gradually adopts the idea that he’s a true secret agent. But as his lies keep piling up, his world begins crashing down - and the government turns its attention to possible skeletons in Whitacre’s closet.
Ads suggest that Soderbergh plays the film for laughs, but this is a film where the humor isn’t equated in belly laughs. Soderbergh uses little touches like giving the film a 1970s sitcom feel, even down to the score from Marvin Hamlisch, that add to the overall mood of “The Informant!” in a very positive manner.
The humor then takes a subtle turn in the final act, when it becomes apparent that Whitacre may not be the bumbling idiot everyone thinks he is.
In the hands of lesser people, I’m not sure the subtle shift would have worked - but Soderbergh and Damon pull this off. Soderbergh seems to be pushing all the right buttons, including the intriguing casting decision of putting comedians like Joel McHale, the Smothers Brothers and Patton Oswalt in serious roles.
The best casting decision, however, is Damon in the lead. The actor puts on the charm early on, with a goofy manner that makes you root for the guy. But as the movie progresses and Whitacre’s motives start to be revealed, Damon’s performance gets darker - a cross between someone who is either a little bit crazy or morally bankrupt, or a little of both.
Some people may not appreciate the film’s slow burn structure, which really takes its time getting to its destination, but Damon makes it well worth your time. It’s an award-worthy performance that hopefully gets at least some consideration when the year’s best performances are discussed come December.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Monsters vs. Aliens” (B) - a visually delightful animated feature, full of memorable characters that will appease both young and old.
The film begins as a young woman (Reese Witherspoon) is struck by a meteorite on her wedding day. The accident causes her to turn into a giant monster and she is whisked away to a secret government compound and given the new name, Ginormica.
While in the compound, she meets a group of other monsters captured over the years - including a half man/half cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a blob named B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) and the Missing Link (Will Arnett).
She quickly learns that the monsters are meant to be locked away forever. That plan changes when Earth comes under attack by an alien (Rainn Wilson), leaving the monsters as the only hope for preventing world domination.
“Monsters vs. Aliens” has an old-school, “B” movie feel that I really appreciated. The screenplay from Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky takes pride in those “B” movie roots with plenty of sight gags and dialogue that pays homage to those films.
The all-star cast adds to the fun. My favorite was Rogen, who delivers some laugh-out-loud lines that will probably get lost on the younger crowd.
The film also has a great look that rivals previous Dreamworks films, like “Shrek” and “Madagascar.”
Both of those films have become franchise players for the studio. “Monsters vs. Aliens” leaves the door open for further adventures, so it certainly has the chance to join those films in a growing library of quality family entertainment.
“Monsters vs. Aliens” is rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language and will be available Tuesday on DVD.
— If you want to know sportswriter/movie reviewer’ Micheal Compton’s thoughts on “Jennifer’s Body” just visit his blog - http://mcompton.wordpress.com. To get Micheal’s instant thoughts on “Fame” and “Surrogates,” or anything else follow him at http://twitter.com/mcompton428. E-mails to email@example.com are also welcome.