Informant!, The (2009)

Rated: R for language.
Length: 108 minutes
Grade: BDCD=C
Budget: $22 million
Box Office: $40 million (33 U.S., 7 Intl.)

Written by: Scott Z. Burns (What We Take From Each Other, Bourne Ultimatum), based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (Che, Ocean’s 11-13, Good German, Solaris, Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight, and Sex Lies and Videotape)
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, and Melanie Lynskey.

A senior ADM biochemist blows the whistle on global price fixing to the FBI in an effort to advance his own career within the company even as his own compulsive lying and fraud spirals out of control in this movie based on a true story.

Entertainment Value: B
The interesting thing about this movie is the way you begin watching it expecting one set of developments and then as everything unfolds the movie transforms itself into an entirely different sort of thing. What seems like a movie about a semi-likeable but somewhat bumblesome whistle-blower and corporate corruption becomes a fairly compelling show-and-tell about bipolar disorder and compulsive lying. Damon is brilliant. That much is obvious. My own irritation with this movie was that I’m from Illinois, and I immediately realized that although the film is set in the 90s, they’re using current Illinois license plates rather than the old sky blue, dark blue, and white ones which lasted until 2001. For a movie which seems to do so much to cultivate period authenticity, I’m left wondering whether this was a deliberate error.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence A, Language D
There’s some casual alcohol consumption and one indirect reference to drug use. The only sex issue is one discussion about a woman ruining her figure with children and another about Japanese businessmen buying girl’s underwear out of a vending machine in the airport. The reason this is R is purely language, with plenty enough F and S profanity to justify the rating. I guess they were trying to write realistically, but this surely could have been just PG with a little restraint.

Significant Content: C
The FBI is incompetent. Corporate executives the world over are only interested in profit rather than the law. Even people who blow the whistle may be doing it for their own interests in profit. You can fool an awful lot of people with clever lies for awhile, but it probably won’t last forever.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
When it was all over, my wife and I both looked at each other with the same basic question on our minds, “What did we just watch?” It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t all that fun. I felt intrigued by it but ultimately let down wondering what had just happened to me over the last 100 minutes.

Discussion Questions:
~Who seems more mentally disturbed in this marriage: Mark or his wife who either doesn’t seem to grasp his problem or chooses to ignore it?
~Why does Mark so obsessively rearrange events so as to paint himself as a hero both to others and in his own mind? Is this something normal people also do?
~What is the purpose of his lying? Does it have a purpose? Discuss his repeated use of his own personal history. ~Can you think of any core explanation that helps make sense of Mark’s life, especially the way he reveals information to people who shouldn’t have it?
~What is the point of the running series of odd observations and internal narratives? Do they paint him as an insightful person or as being mentally cluttered? By the end of the movie, Mark’s compulsive lying makes you wonder which if any of these observations are even factually accurate (for instance, the thing about polar bears is a total myth). How would you know, and what lesson do you draw from this about believable myths and urban legends? ~One theory about urban legends is that we tend to believe the ones which reinforce negative stereotypes we already have about people. Which of the stories in this movie fit that pattern?
~Good liars know that the most believable of lies are both outrageous and also use enough specific detail that no one even bothers to question them. Do you think modern news media contributed to our inability tell truth from fiction through common sense?
~What does the theme of the “white hat guy” mean in this movie? Do you think most people have this same sense about themselves no matter what they do? Why do you think people have trouble accepting the Christian notion that they are basically evil and sinful?
~What do you think of the ending and of what eventually happened to Mark and the ADM executives?
~As people start to realize how disturbed Mark is, they stop being angry at him and start treating him as an object of pity. Is this related to their beliefs about whether he can or cannot control himself? How do we react differently to people who choose evil and people who seem unable to stop themselves from doing bad things?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The final confrontation with Mark, Ginger, and Brian Sheppard.
~Mark showing his friend the briefcase.

Overall Grade: C
There are moments of real humor, but it’s hard to tell who would really appreciate this movie other than someone who likes unusual movies for the sake of them being unusual. In the end, of course, I can’t really know whether I’ve seen a relatively accurate account or not. So, as I said before, “What did I just watch?”

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