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DVD Review: The Informant!

“While this motion picture is based on real events, certain incidents and characters are composites, and dialogue has been dramatized. So there.”

Before the title screen fades in, we are given this first hint into the duality that makes The Informant! so disturbing (the events are based on a true story) and “a real knee-slapper,” as Matt Damon’s Mark Whitacre might proclaim.

The film, based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book, The Informant: A True Story, begins simply enough when we are introduced to Whitacre, a nerdy, bespectacled biochemist and the youngest vice-president of Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM, as the company is known. ADM manufactures chemicals that go into our food, as well as lysine, an amino acid given to livestock cattle.

This deceptively mundane start leads to the more complex tale of how Whitacre becomes embroiled in price fixing schemes involving his company, lysine, and a passel of international firms. When the dishonest nature of these dealings become too much for him, he turns traitor and allows the FBI to fit him with a wire, stuff a tape recorder in his briefcase, and send him into meetings to record all evidence of wrongdoing. In this way, he becomes the “highest ranking corporate whistle blower in U.S. history.”

From here we witness how Whitacre, over the course of five years, takes a tumble down the corporate and legal rabbit hole. His voiceovers (about such scintillating topics as Abe Lincoln’s log cabin, butterflies, and ties) offer clues to a vast disparity between his thoughts and actions. He is a man with an internal problem, indeed, a man on the edge.

How all this culminates into what might be considered a success story is a miracle to behold. You wonder how so many twists, turns, and misdeeds could tumble together to make sense in the end. The fact that it’s all true makes Whitacre’s story that much more extraordinary.

The music, written by Marvin Hamlisch, is of the cartoony, gee-whiz sort of stuff you might hear in a ‘50s screwball comedy. Although the subject matter of the film is serious, the zany soundtrack works — accentuating Whitacre’s emotional duality and how ridiculous those greedy corporate fat cats really are.

Matt Damon turns in a first-rate performance as Whitacre, making this bedeviled extortionist into a believable, sympathetic character. Melanie Lynskey plays his beleaguered wife, Ginger, who believes in Mark, is a tower of strength for him, and stays with him through his battles (both internal and otherwise).

Another noteworthy turn is that of Scott Bakula, as FBI agent Brian Shepard. Bakula’s plastered down hair and granite-jawed look could be conceived as a parody of the stereotypical tough as nails federal agent. But there is heart beneath that facade and Bakula succeeds brilliantly in bringing it out.

Included on the DVD are four deleted scenes but no commentaries, which is something of a disappointment. It would have been interesting to get some input from the director Steven Soderbergh, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns or Mr. Damon on the intricacies of condensing a 600-page book into this tight, quick-moving film.

The Informant! is well worth a look. It is an entertaining, intense, and occasionally light-hearted look at a corporation brought to its knees by one bright, emotionally challenged soul.

You can learn more at the film's official site. The Informant! is available on Blu-ray, DVD and as a digital download on February 23, 2010.

About Mindy Peterman