MOVIE REVIEW- Fact or fiction: <i>Informant!</i> a true story with twists


If Silkwood and The Insider had a baby with a sense of humor, he might grow up to be The Informant!

If you've ever wondered what a "pathological liar" is, The Informant! offers an excellent illustration. Based on a true story, but played for chuckles, Steven Soderbergh's film stars a heavyweight Matt Damon (he'll have to slim down to be Bourne again) as Mark Whitacre, whose lack of a grip on reality becomes increasingly obvious as events unfold.

A bipolar biochemist on the management fast track at Archer Daniels Midland, Mark is married to his childhood sweetheart, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey). They have three children, two of them adopted, as Mark says he himself was after his folks died in a car crash when he was three– or was it six?– years old.

In the early ‘90s, Mark reports to his boss that a Japanese businessman is trying to extort $10 million from the company, claiming to have planted a mole who is tainting ADM's food additive products. The boss calls in the FBI, who start by tapping Mark's home phone.

Pressed by Ginger to tell Agents Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Herndon (Joel McHale) the whole truth (although it's never clear how much of the real truth she knows), Mark blows the whistle on price-fixing in the industry. At the agents' behest, he starts wearing a wire to work and to high-level international meetings he attends, although the material he records never quite seems to make a case for price-fixing.

Mark revels in the undercover work, calling himself "Agent 0014...because I'm twice as smart as 007," but increasingly feels the strain of "living two lives." Sometimes he needs the FBI's assurance that his self-interest will be protected ("The gluconate guy, he's out of a job"), but at other times he constructs his own scenario in which the bad guys are taken away, leaving him to run the grateful company.

After two and a half years, the FBI finally makes its move on ADM and Mark's story starts falling apart, his lies being replaced by truths which are replaced by truer truths, and so on.

Probably the best thing about The Informant! is what novelists call an "inner monologue," the protagonist's running commentary. Mark sometimes remarks on the action, but more often his mind wanders away from it to go shopping, reflect on something he's read (he's fond of Crichton and Grisham), or share some factoid or philosophoid. A scene late in the film sheds new light on what we've been hearing, pegging it as a voice in Mark's head, not just from his head.

He may be twice as smart as 007 or half as smart as Forrest Gump, but just because Mark Whitacre makes things up doesn't mean they're not true. He's an interesting guy to spend a couple of hours with.