A tragic comedy without laughs, Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! purposefully poses as a genre film to shroud the multi-faceted character study hiding at its core. But what genre exactly is indeed a tough question to answer. Lead chameleon Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a scientist/VP for a giant corporation now turned whistle-blower, fuels this battle between surface and subtext, perception and reality with his relentlessly shifting personality. This is best represented by a stream of consciousness voice over vitalizing the sense of random purpose inherent to the man’s personal self-worth. For Whitacre, playing coy and deceiving is his equivalent to James Bond’s lethal PP7.
The rise and fall arc never achieves a grandiose sense of emotion, and it’s not supposed to. Soderbergh deliberately manipulates the viewer throughout with fascinating asides, overemphasized scenes of dialogue, and cunning moments of action, allowing Damon’s layered performance to reveal itself slowly and surely. He frames the entire film within a blinding yellow haze of a world, a purgatory of sorts between the economic hell of one decade and the expansive globalization of the next.
The Informant! is a deceptively poignant film, tough to pin down in many respects as it peels away the personality of man protected by a thick wall of lies and compromises. Even if the extremely ambitious story structure and critique of big business are not always successful, Soderbergh’s strange and hypnotic film is about as audacious as Hollywood comes, challenging the viewer at every turn to unravel an anti-mystery worth solving and contemplate what kind of man and system would allow such folly to exist.