Release Date: September 2009
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula
Based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald: The Informant: A True Story

This has probably happened to you. You’re in a dark theater laughing, finding nearly every scene, every voice-over, in a film to be hysterically funny. Yet no one else is laughing. Oh sure, your companions chuckle mildly from time to time, but probably so you aren’t laughing alone. Now it’s a black comedy you’re viewing, but still. Silence engulfs the rest of the theater.

This was my experience with The Informant! So I spent considerable time second- guessing myself. Was it really that funny or was I supposed to be livid over corporate misdeeds? Was the protagonist the most amusing character I’ve seen in a long time or was my view of him as a completely ridiculous individual incorrect? I was outraged with his antics for sure, but the material was presented in a satirical fashion.

Plot: I will present it somewhat sketchily so as not to spoil your fun. Also, I must admit, some of the financial aspects of it eluded by math-challenged brain. Informant! is the story of Mark Whitacre( Matt Damon), a biochemist and executive at Archer Daniels Midland, who for an unknown reason in the early nineties, offered to aid the F.B. I. in an investigation A.D.M. business practice, specifically price-fixing in the agricultural industry. A.D.M. makes a lot of the chemicals you find on the ingredients label of products lurking in your kitchen cabinet. Much of Whitacre’s story is told in voice-overs that extol the virtues of corn, his hands, and similar mid-western themes and values. He is sincerity personified with his family, his colleagues, the government.

But he is also enigmatic almost from the start. Why is he willing to tape hundreds of hours of conversations with his business associates? Why does he raise the stakes on the investigation at every turn? Why does he constantly endanger the investigation by talking to various people about it? Antics like this eventually begin to take a toll on his relationship with the agents, his lawyer, and other Federal officials. His behavior begins to jeopardize the very case he helped built. He seems completely unaware of what his collusion with the government will cost his career. But telling you anymore would ruin the fun.

The real charm of this movie is the way the story is told and Matt Damon’s wonderful, likeable. modulated and endearingly clunky performance. Marvin Hamlisch’s music perfectly suits the mood. There is a zesfulness that makes you realize this story would not have worked if it were told in a straightforward style—like so many whistle-blower tales. Or even like Soderbergh’s earlier Erin Brockovich. It’s the ludicrous and convoluted nature of the man and his deeds that make things interesting. And every time you think you have him figured out, he surprises, no, stuns, you. Highly recommended. And once you’ve seen it, explain exactly what he did to me.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.