"The Informant!"

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Matt Damon gained 30 pounds for his role in Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!. I don't like it when actors gain or lose substantial amounts of weight for a movie. It's not healthy, of course, but beyond that, it begs the question: Why didn't they just hire an actor who was already the right size for the part?

In the case of The Informant! I even know which actor they could have used. Take Matt Damon, add 30 pounds, put a pair of glasses and some business clothes on him and what do you get? A cuter version of Philip Seymour Hoffman. In the acting department, there's nothing Damon does in the role that Hoffman couldn't do just as well, (except for being cuter), so why not save all that wear and tear on Damon's body and hire Hoffman?

I don't like the exclamation point in the title of The Informant! either. Kurt Eichenwald's book, on which the film is loosely based, doesn't have an exclamation point, and the inclusion of one here seems ham-handed. Then again, so does the use of Marvin Hamlisch's oppressively jaunty score, which sounds like he plucked it right out of The Sting and slathered it all over this story. We get it, Mr. Soderbergh, you want to make it clear that the movie is lighter than the somber fare (Che, anyone?) that people associate with your name, but why resort to exclamation points and boorishly manipulative music? You made Ocean's Eleven and its sequels — we know you have a lighter side. So back off, man, back off!

Oh, I just realized what I'm doing here. You know how sometimes in restaurant reviews the writer spends three-fourths of the article yammering about the décor and previous restaurants the chef worked at and stuff like that until you want to scream, "Just tell me if the damn food's any good!"? That's what I'm doing here. So I'll get down to business, just as soon as I point out the design flaws in the seats of the theater where I saw the movie.

Just kidding.

The Informant! is an okay minor comedy/drama about an overeager informant whose information is valuable to the authorities, but whose personal credibility becomes increasingly shaky as the investigation goes on. Matt Damon is entertaining as the maddening, but still sort of likable schlub who thinks he's playing out The Firm as he spills the beans on his corporate colleagues.

Melanie Lynskey is fine as the wife, as are Scott Bakula and Joel McHale as the FBI agents handling Damon's character. Soderbergh casts a number of actors associated with comedy in supporting roles, including Tom and Dick Smothers. Perhaps he knew that ads for the film would prominently use the word "hilarious" and thought that casting funny guys in serious roles would somehow help him in his quest to reach hilarity.

The Informant! isn't hilarious. It's interesting and amusing. It's sad as well, and it loses momentum for a while in the middle. Damon's stream-of-consciousness voice-overs provide some laughs along with a degree of insight into the deluded, self-destructive whistle-blower. If only Soderbergh hadn't smothered the movie with music the way I smothered this review with digressions.

I think The Informant! would have been a better movie if Soderbergh had removed the exclamation point from his mindset and just let the quirky story happen. 108 minutes.

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