There are two ways you can take Steven Soderbergh’s newest film, “The Informant!” :
1. It’s a madcap dark comedy about an idiot whistleblower who can’t keep his mouth shoot, and as a result shoots himself in the foot so many times that by the end, it’s amazing he has feet left,
2. It’s a grim, disturbing parallel about corporate corruption, centered around a mid-level executive whose sense of morality is so muddled and confused he seems to have no idea when he’s right and when he’s wrong; a character like this is, in some ways, scarier than an honest to goodness bad guy.
The current economic times would lead us to view the movie the latter way; these days, I think most of us wonder what in the world is going on in the minds of the decision-makers at AIG and Enron. But “The Informant!” is produced to make us think the former: Matt Damon’s ridiculous moustache, the ’60’s-style scene captions, the ridiculous, comedic score, and, perhaps most of all, the bizarre, rambling, often hilarious voiceover provided by Damon all elbow the audience and say, “Hey! This is funny stuff! Funny, funny stuff!”
And some of it really is funny. Damon is a biochemist turned executive at a corn-processing giant who is involved in, among other things, a price-fixing scheme. The FBI get involved, mostly because of a lie (one of a thousan) that Damon tells, and he basically volunteers himself as an informant. Thing is, he’s involved in all kinds of illegal activities, from fraud to forgery, but thinks he can only tell the FBI what he wants them to know–and fabricate that, if need be. No less than five times, someone in authority asks him “Is there anything else we need to know?” and he replies that there isn’t. This is a signal, dear reader, that some other criminal activity is about to be uncovered.
The tension between the comedic styling of “The Informant!” and its subject matter makes it an interesting, if deeply unsettling, movie. A lot like “Observe and Report,” this one makes you laugh, and then makes you wonder if you should be laughing. Unlike that movie, this one is unsettling for a reason. As my wife likes to say, “You have to laugh — you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.”