The Informant! (15)

Their heart isn't in it

Mark Whitacre, protagonist of The Informant!, believes himself to be "a serious man", with disastrous consequences.

As played by Matt Damon, with a heavy paunch and a horrible salesman's moustache, Whitacre is an office drone at a bio-food conglomerate in the early 1990s.

When a price-fixing scheme comes to light, Whitacre goes to the FBI and offers himself as whistleblower, wearing a wire to meetings and compiling hours of tapes for his two baffled handlers at the Bureau (Scott Bakula, Joel McHale).

What they don't know is that Whitacre is another Walter Mitty, a fantasist who imagines himself to be secret agent "0014" – "cos I'm twice as smart as 007". For a while we don't know either, since the director Steven Soderbergh begins this tale of corporate wrongdoing in a very straightfaced way, the only hint that we're heading for farce being Whitacre's strange internal monologues: in the middle of meetings he suddenly drifts into a reverie about neckties or Japanese shopping habits. Once we realise that he's desperately trying to keep track of his own lies, Matt Damon's performance begins to make sense: this guy isn't just shifty, delusional and idiotic, he's also hopelessly corrupt. His story (based on a book of the same name) plays like a funsize version of The Insider, with Damon as a gormless parody of Russell Crowe's tobacco-firm nemesis. (Was the weight gain also a sly tribute?).

The problem with The Informant!, aside from that overcoaxing exclamation mark, is that it's not especially funny. As Damon pulls an increasingly ragged cloak of lies about his chubby form, we feel a sort of contempt for him and a pity for the two Feds who've spent five long years trying to put a case together. But pity and contempt don't translate into laughs; there's no ingenuity in Whitacre's fraud, and for bare-faced cheek it has nothing on our own MPs' expenses scandal.

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