Sep 28, 2009


Which Way Is Up?

GPA for The Informant: 4.0


Based on a true story, Matt Damon’s new movie, The Informant, is a winner. Although any hope for a viable Hero-Nerd turns out to be built on shifting sand, every role is well-acted, and the pacing is perfect.

For this movie, I’m bothered by “comedy” as a label, which seems to be floating around out there. Rightly or wrongly, when I hear comedy, I think fluff, in spite of all the exceptions. In any case, this is no lightweight film; mostly likely, none of the superb comedies are.

Yes, some of protagonist Mark Whitacre’s (Matt Damon’s) quirky or pathological thinking is amusing, along with the twists in plot created by his mental machinations. But The Informant conveys a substantive tension between humor and an important, convincing dark side—in both the character of Whitacre and the corporate culture in which he finds and loses himself.

More importantly, thinking of The Informant as a comedy might lead us to minimize some of the disturbing questions it plops on our plates, in just the right doses. Writer Scott Burns and director Steven Soderbergh skillfully invite us listen to the darkness and well as the humor.

Can a guy as likable as Whitacre be seriously disturbed? Whose darker side is more menacing, his or his corporation’s? What is more dangerous, more frightening: a predictably corrupt (corporate) culture or a brilliant, driven, delusional oddball within it? Isn’t it true that we expect or even accept that large institutions will be driven by greed and corruption--and aren't oddballs innocents, every single one?

When does someone’s imagination bleed into a kind of fantasy life so consuming that it's genuinely worrisome to caring onlookers? Can fantasy become a series of lies so large that they fill and define the character, who's not even sure they are lies? Or is he? Maybe we and the other characters are the only ones unsure about who is deceiving whom about what.

When does a character’s lying become such an automatic part of him that we feel a need for the correct psychiatric diagnosis? Personality disorder? Borderline personality? We're not dealing with psychotic delusions, so what’s the prognosis?

When does a code of ethics become so fanciful that we lose respect for it—and feel sure our hero should know better too? When do we stop pulling for a guy, even if he’s an underdog? Did he stop being the underdog, the Hero-Nerd? At what point? Does that mean we're pulling for bad guys? Or there are no good guys?

Who else has so thoroughly fooled me recently? Was Whitacre that good or was I a simpleton? Don’t we want our eccentric colleagues, neighbors, friends, who seem harmless, to remain . . . harmless? Shouldn’t they stay true to what we thought they were?

There’s a lot of see-sawing and betrayal in The Informant. If you come away thinking it was all for laughs, one more slick Hollywood affair, a safe date, a cake walk for Matt Damon, then you and I didn’t see the same thing and aren’t asking the same questions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Art? Maybe. Did the bottoms follow you around the room?

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