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The Auteurs Daily: Venice and Toronto. The Informant!


The Auteurs Daily

The Informant!

"That jaunty exclamation mark handily sets the tone for Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, a flip, frisky entertainment that may well represent the year's most audacious feat of adaptation," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. "Of course, the trailer already (and unavoidably) pulled the covers from the film's biggest trick: that writer Scott Z Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) has reimagined Kurt Eichenwald's dense non-fiction thriller about a mid-1990s agribusiness price-fixing scandal as a rapid-fire corporate comedy of errors, like The Insider as filtered through the dry whimsy of Preston Sturges."

"This is tricky stuff: a comedy about things that aren't really funny." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt: "With the right tone, you can maybe pull this off, but Soderbergh chooses to throw all subtlety aside."

It's the "wacky little brother of Erin Brockovich," suggests Variety's Todd McCarthy. "In some ways, you could call The Informant! Soderbergh's Richard Lester movie, in light of his devotion to the Britain-based American director of cutting, serious comedies."

"[T]he film can't quite decide its tone, and a razzle-dazzle comedy score from Marvin Hamlisch - his first movie music since 1996 - doesn't help settle the matter, especially since the best moments are intensely dramatic," writes Screen's new editor Mike Goodridge. "The creative choices here are so startlingly out of sync with much of the drama that it feels like a decision made in the editing room to 'funny up' the movie. Perhaps played straight, it would have come off as the darkly humorous and sadly ironic character piece it should be."

"I first had my hopes raised about The Informant! when I spoke to Steven Soderbergh last year," writes Empire's Damon Wise. "'I think a lot of people think, based on the subject matter, that it's going to be a Michael Mann film,' he told me. 'But it's more Alexander Payne than Michael Mann.'... [T]he film is very much a triumph for Matt Damon, who really excels in the role of Mark Whitacre... Warner Bros face an uphill struggle to position the film: it's a comedy that's not that funny, and a drama that's not too serious. But if you follow the human pathos there, The Informant! emerges as a likeable, even moving film that just can't help but defy convention - much like the starry-eyed Whitacre himself."

Updates, 9/8: "Damon is surprisingly adept at playing psychopaths and liars," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "He seems such an all-American boy that when he is cast against type, the effect is provocative and intriguing.... Ultimately, though, The Informant! is frustrating viewing. It has neither the brio of a full-blown comedy, nor the intensity of a thriller. The real mystery is why Soderbergh made it and what he was trying to say."

"Ultimately, the film combines the corporate paranoia of The Insider and the giddy duplicity of Catch Me If You Can," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "It probably shouldn't work, but it does."

Online viewing tip. David Poland talks with screenwriter Scott Z Burns.

Updates, 9/10: "Soderbergh and Burns deftly manage the complexities and dense bio-terminology in Eichenwald's book while finding endless laughs in the way Whitacre's twisted mind works," write Noel Murray and Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "[T]he film reenforces Soderbergh's sly commentary on corporate culture and how it infects those who participate in it."

"The story of Mark Whitacre is a ridiculous one," writes Drew McWeeney at Hitfix, "and Soderbergh must have been drawn in by the spectacular pathology of this whistleblowing weenie, because The Informant! turns out to be one of the liveliest entertainments of Soderbergh's career. It helps that Matt Damon seems to have absolutely no ego in his approach to playing Whitacre."

Update, 9/11: Soderbergh "teeters on the edge of satire without fully jumping in," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "It's intentionally slapdash and sometimes too self-indulgent, but the unlikely tone has a few charms."

Update, 9/12: "The whole movie is Mark's brainscan," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "It's shot and acted in a bland style that, you only eventually realize, is deeply askew, and darkly, corrosively satirical.... Hollywood is an industry that mostly ignores workplace life and the impact of corporations on what we eat and how we live. And on the rare occasions when it touches on these issues, it looks to turn them into morality plays with easily recognizable heroes and villains (as Erin Brockovich did). The Informant! says that people who do good or ill have complex motives for their actions, and that not everyone is knowable, instantly or ever."

Update, 9/13: Michael Ordoña talks with Soderbergh and Damon for the Los Angeles Times.



Updates, 9/14: "The Informant! is a return to form for Soderbergh, who couldn't seem to put anything resembling an emotional charge into his recent films," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "This time, Soderbergh is in full control, and his star is on fire."

"This is yet another of Soderbergh's 'exercises in style,' which means he has one big idea and sticks to it," writes David Edelstein in New York. "The Informant! does raise a fascinating question: How can humans so compartmentalize their psyches? But Whitacre has no stature - he's just a nut. Steven Spielberg explored this duality - and the crazy hope underlying it - so much more engagingly in Catch Me If You Can."

Glenn Kenny finds The Informant! "incredibly absorbing, deeply smart, and yes, very funny, albeit in a chortling rather than belly-laughing way."

For Scott Weinberg, writing at Cinematical, it's "a seriously entertaining film... about a seriously plain man."

Online listening tip. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss whistleblower movies.

Updates, 9/15: "With his bad haircut, off-the-rack suits, cookie-duster mustache, and doughy build, Mark Whitacre seems like an unlikely role for a movie idol like Matt Damon," writes Paul Matwychuk. "But in fact it's perfect casting - Damon has always excelled at playing characters whose antisocial, sometimes criminal, even sociopathic nature is almost perfectly concealed by their boyish, guileless looks, from the con artist in The Talented Mr. Ripley to the semi-addicted gambler in Rounders to the pickpocket in Ocean's Eleven. Damon is such a likable performer - especially in the section of The Informant! where Whitacre bumbles his way through his FBI assignments - that you never once consider that Whitacre might not actually be this movie's hero."

Online listening tip. Eichenwald is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates, 9/17: "The Informant! is an inspired social satire, a near-perfect single-carat diamond in an age of mindless movie bling," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "It's a small movie, but not in any sense minor."

On the other hand, Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times: "We're really overdue for a great black comedy of white-collar crime. It's just too bad The Informant! isn't it."

More from Sam Adams (IFC), Josef Braun (Vue), Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Henry Stewart (L), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York) and Robert Wilonsky (Voice).

Online listening tip. Damon and Soderbergh are guests on Fresh Air.

Updates, 9/19: "For all the silly walks and comic cameos, anger fuels The Informant!, giving it its pulse and reason for being," writes Manohla Dargis. "Anger inspires its giggles, forces its tears and might even explain the fiery orange that colors so many faces, as if this world and its people were on the verge of immolation. Like all of Mr Soderbergh's movies, this one can be appreciated on purely formal terms, for the clarity of its images and the economy of the storytelling. But it is Mr. Soderbergh's insistence on seeing the A.D.M. scandal as a collective tragedy rather than as another white-collar crime that gives the movie force, resonance, feeling.""

Also in the New York Times: "Soderbergh may have zigzagged in and out of the movie-industry mainstream in the course of his career, but he has remained, throughout, to an extent matched by very few of his peers, an experimental filmmaker," writes AO Scott. "By this I mean that he seems to approach each film as a problem, a hypothesis to be explored and tested in the course of production."

"What's distinguished Steven Soderbergh as a director from all of his contemporaries (and at this point that list includes Spanish-language filmmakers as much as English-language ones, and studio regulars as much as independents) is his willingness to think things through." Ignatiy Vishnevetsky here at The Auteurs: "It's not an omnivorous intellectualism; it's a sense of responsibility."

"Soderbergh has always approached his films, even the most quirkily experimental, with a degree of remoteness that has sometimes veered into bloodlessness," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "But, at a time when passions are running so ubiquitously and insanely high, his dedication to dispassion feels downright revolutionary."

The Informant! "feels of a piece with the Soderbergh who so effortlessly batted for the cycle with Out of Sight, The Limey, Traffic and Erin Brockovich at the beginning of the decade," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Also, the Marvin Hamlisch score rocks balls."

Christopher Orr in the New Republic: "[B]eyond its aesthetics, The Informant! has a 1970s brand of humor, too: wry, not riotous; content to find its laughs in the context of the story; gliding on a wave of chuckles rather than striving desperately for hilarity. It may be the funniest movie in five years without (as best I can recall) a single gag related to bodily functions."

"The Informant! is Soderbergh in larky mode, which in its sterility has recently become virtually indistinguishable from his cerebral mode," finds Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Soderbergh may set out to expose the resonance behind a fabulist's giggly ruses, but in the end it's the audience who gets duped."

"It's one thing to build a film around someone who's an unknowable cipher (the Philip Seymour Hoffman vehicle Owning Mahoney did this well); it's something else again to show a guy acting entertainingly nutty for two hours, then try to milk the audience's sympathy with a tight close-up of his face as he finally breaks down." Dana Stevens in Slate: "Soderbergh's choices are all deliberate, and often interesting. But The Informant! has that old jigsaw-puzzle quality, not uncommon in Soderbergh films, of adding up to less than the sum of its parts."

More from Sean Axmaker, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Brandon Harris, Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Robert Levin (Critic's Notebook), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Matt Singer (Rumpus) and Michael Wilmington (Movie City News).

Update, 9/20: David Poland talks with Soderbergh.

Update, 9/22: Alex Billington interviews Soderbergh, too.

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.


I call SCHIZOPOLIS Soderbergh’s Richard Lester movie, but maybe that’s just me. Looking forward to this one.

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