Friday, October 30, 2009

The Informant (Rhoades)

Matt Damon Is Whistleblower in “The Informant!”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Liar, liar, pants on fire. That’s what you’ll say about Matt Damon’s character in “The Informant!” – an exec with an international agri-business company who agrees to bug his coworkers for the FBI. But the Justice Department starts getting nervous about their informant as his stories start changing with each new encounter.

This whistleblower dramedy is still playing at the Tropic Cinema.

“The Informant!” is based on the true story of Mark Whitacre, a Cornell-trained PhD who was an up-and-comer at Archer Daniels Midland, the biochemical company that manufactures a corn product called lysine. Seems the execs were engaged in price-fixing with their competitors around the world.

Based on Kurt Eichenwald’s 2000 book, this film by Steven Soderbergh (”Oceans Eleven,” etc.) examines the wacky behavior of this would-be spy. Not only did Whitacre wiretap his coworkers, but while doing this seemingly noble deed – helping the government bust the biggest price-fixing scheme in American history – he also embezzled millions of dollars from ADM.
Scott Bakula and Joel McHale are the beleaguered FBI Special Agents handling the case. Melanie Lynskey is the naïvely loyal wife.

The film has been compared to both “The Insider” and “A Beautiful Mind,” which gave us two masterful Russell Crowe performances. But Matt Damon instead turned to Robert De Niro for advice. For this role, Damon – the buff star of those “Bourne Identity” action thrillers – had to pack on 30 extra pounds. So he consulted with De Niro, who’d gained 60 pounds for his classic turn in “Raging Bull.”

De Niro told him, “Well, the first fifteen pounds are really fun and then you have to go to work after that.”

Did Damon call the respected actor out of the blue? “No, I didn’t cold call him,” Damon quips. “Hi, is this Robert De Niro? Listen, I’m a young actor and I need some advice. Got a minute? Have you ever seen ‘Mystic Pizza?’ I’m in that, Ok? How about ‘School Ties?’”

Fortunately, the two had already worked together on a spy film called “The Good Shepard.”
Referring to De Niro’s Academy Award-winning performance as the overweight Jake La Motta, Damon jokes, “The only reason I did this movie is for an Oscar nomination, so I’m just going to come out and say it. Once Steven decided to take it in a more comic direction tonally, it became less important for all of us to do rigorous character studies of the actual people, more about having fun with this terrific script.”

He stuffed himself with fast food and dark beer. “It was very, very easy to gain the weight,” he reports with a grin.

A guy who was once chosen as People’s Sexiest Man Alive, Damon jokes that the magazine took back the title. “Now I’m the Sexiest Man Alive’s chunky cousin,” he laughs.
Soderbergh wanted him to look “doughy” for the role, a character with no hard or defined edges. Sporting glasses, a mustache, and the extra weight, he could pass for “your rich, flabby uncle that is fleeing the country to a secluded tropical island.”

Now Damon’s working hard to drop those 30 pounds in time to be svelte for the upcoming Paul Greengrass drama “Green Zone.” He says, “Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss. It sucks.”

The real-life Mark Whitacre recalls, “When you’re working for three years undercover, you get to the point where you don’t know who you are. There was one point where my wife said to me, ‘Who do you work for now?’”

With the film’s running voice-over non-sequiturs, it becomes clear that Whitacre was a pathological liar, not totally in touch with reality.

Turns out, the guy was bipolar. But the sentencing judge didn’t see a connection between the mental condition and his embezzlement of two, uh five, uh nine, uh maybe eleven million dollars. How much money did Whitacre really take? Depends on when you ask him. Liar, liar – this guy could’ve used some asbestos pants!
[from Solares Hill]

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