Movie review: 'The Informant!'

Steven Soderbergh offers a zany take on corporate malfeasance.

For "The Informant!" where he plays real-life Mark Whitacre, the executive at agricultural megabusiness Archer Daniels Midland who, in the early 1990s, turned FBI snitch, Matt Damon adds on a fake moustache, bulbous nose, and 20 pounds.

Steven Soderbergh's new movie, written by Scott Z. Burns and based on Kurt Eichenwald's nonfiction book, is about corporate malfeasance in high places and functions as a kind of alternate universe to his "Erin Brockovich," a considerably more straightforward whistle-blower thriller. Here, the seriousness of the subtext – ADM was involved in big-time price fixing – is counterbalanced by the zaniness of the text, starting with that exclamation point in the film's title.

Marvin Hamlisch's score has a knockabout freneticism that seems more '60s than '90s, and Soderbergh at times employs camera moves, like suddenly spinning the image upside down, that are the cinematic equivalents of whoopee cushions. This is all oddly appropriate, since Whitacre, a wonkish biochemist who plied his way to a plush lifestyle, is mighty strange. As his entanglements with the FBI and ADM ensue, his behavior becomes ever more untrustworthy and fantastical.

Damon is an agile comic performer, and Soderbergh knows how to serve him up without losing sight of the ultimate seriousness behind it all. Grade: B+. Rated R for language.

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