There’s a thing with stories dependent on a single character to drive it forward that seems flimsy. It’s almost like putting a toothpick vertically underneath a brick. Should that single character succeed, it keeps the brick steady. One should know the alternative. The Informant! is an example of this “genre” of films, one that rides on the back of a single character (or actor) and having everyone else rely on or react to their performance. It takes a powerful performance to keep the interest consistent and the dedicated resources to ensure that the lead doesn’t flail with the supporting cast. To some extent, there is a method to the film’s madness, but it does not start early.
No words minced: it was an absolute chore to sit through the first half hour of this film. Things didn’t make sense, it was hard to follow, and characters outside of Matt Damon’s seemed invisible. Even as the conflict began to evolve, it never flowed naturally, as though things were jointed together in a spitball fashion around a dining room table. There were some strange inconsistencies with the lead character and the events that followed when given instructions from others. His behavior seemed erratic and hasty, despite seeming like a calm and intelligent fellow. The constant mental monologues were really jarring, seemingly there for no reason than to make the character seem charmingly quirky. Hardly humorous and disjointed, I was almost tempted to drop the film altogether.
Here’s where the interest lies. As the film continues, things begin to flow bit by bit in a consistent manner which makes it easier to follow. Characters begin to show some of their “true” colors. The strange events that took place in the beginning now suddenly hold a deeper meaning. In the form of a “Aha!” moment, The Informant! begins to show its hand, revealing the intention behind the things that had been shown prior. It makes the film a lot more engrossing, as well as interesting to be able to surprise the audience with differing arrays of twists and surprises. The longer the film goes on, the better it gets, slowly growing into the flower it wishes to become. Almost.
Even with the strong second-half, there still lies the issue of excusing the first half for being abysmally dull. Should one simply forget feeling exhausted by the attempts the film makes at placing incoherent pieces together in order to set the scene for later, even if it turns out to be well done? I am not one of those forgiving people. I will harp on the film for the forty minutes of my time trying to pry my eyes open to pay attention. And should that be forgiven, the payoff must be extraordinary, something that astounds the mind more than one could imagine. M. Night Shyamalan-style brain explosions. Not only is that not the case, but the film ends on a bit of a purr.
Given some credit, despite being short of laughs, there is a wacky atmosphere that makes it all seem silly in hindsight. Upbeat music playing during times of diversion, the constant monologues spouting random trivia and questioning the logic behind it. The Informant! has a diversion of mirth which hides the serious events that transpire during it. There is a bit of a question as to whether this was a good mixture or not, as the nature of the film reveals a lot of darker subtext into the minds of certain people. To combine that with a hearty attitude seems a little too cynical, but I applaud the effort attached. It gives the film a distinct flavor, something that makes it stand out compared to others. Some creativity is attached that makes it almost bizarrely entertaining, but only after the plot begins to roll.
Serving as the toothpick, Matt Damon has a fairly good performance as Mark Whitacre. His act is believable and does a nice job of playing a character who isn’t entirely all there. One can see it on his face in the cover photo for this film; it’s immediately apparent Mr. Whitacre is going to be a little loopy. Part of his charm comes from being off-the-wall, along with constantly playing the victim. If not for the events that transpire, it would be easy to believe everything he said based on how much enthusiasm he puts into every word, every claim. Damon himself proves to be a fairly sturdy toothpick, but again, only after the plot begins to roll. His lonely self couldn’t carry the film for the first half, though he made for a quizzical start, which is something, at least.
Now, the rest of the cast leaves much to be desired. There are some better performances, such as Scott Bakula as Agent Shepard, though others aren’t exactly A-listers. They do the bare minimum required of their part and, though the screentime isn’t distributed fairly, don’t shine when the spotlight is on them. Most of the time other characters aren’t given the opportunity to express anything aside from serious tones or flabbergast. Damon is the star here, and it very much shows by his character being the only one to show an emotional range—not to mention, any sort of vulnerability. One could argue that the premise doesn’t give opportunity for others to shine, which is true, but they could implement more than scenes directly involving Whitacre or his antics. Astounding as it may be, he’s not the most interesting man in the world.
There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the way the story is told, though I wonder if there was a better way to implement real facts. The Informant! is based on a true story, though heavily dramatized for the sake of fiction. They let the audience know within the first minute. I feel the movie could’ve benefited from using some of the charming monologues to incorporate some meta humor or something, keying in on some real life facts that occurred aside from when they happened (Dates appear occasionally). Some of this could be a little jarring with the aforementioned imbalance of comedy and drama; if only they could give more of a boost without making things any more dryly random.
Informing the informee about The Informant! is a task best suited for those “in-the-know.” Agents dedicated to the art of informing only the most top secret information an informee could acquire, free of charge. Still, one doesn’t have to be highly knowledgeable of business and scandals to be able to enjoy The Informant!, simply patient, and somewhat open-minded. It’s a work that flaunts the skills of Matt Damon’s craft, along with embellishing a story that’s hardly worth believing. Though, the only real recommendation is Damon himself, as one can read up on the story online without sitting through forty minutes of set-up. Any Matt Damon fans out there, this is a must-watch to further satisfy your Matt Damon needs.
Final Score: 5.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!