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Marshall Fine Headshot

Movie Review: The Informant!

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Narrators don't come much more unreliable than Mark Whitacre in Steven Soderbergh's subversively funny and engagingly odd The Informant!

Watching - and more importantly, listening - to him will either amuse or infuriate you, depending on your tolerance for the ramblings of someone suffering from attention-deficit disorder spiked with a case of bipolarity.

In a sense, this whole film suffers from ADD, a bold choice by Soderbergh, as he skips blithely forward through a decade in Whitacre's life. It's a true story (based on a straight-ahead nonfiction thriller by Kurt Eichenwald) and a hard one to make sense of, so Soderbergh simply takes us for the whole wild ride.

In a way, the audience is in the same position as the people who dealt with Whitacre in real life. His story comes out in dribs and drabs - and you always have the feeling there's something he's not telling you. And you're right.

When first seen, Whitacre (a deliciously high-strung Matt Damon) is a high-ranking executive at Archer Daniels Midland, one of the largest multinational food-processors in the world. Based in Indiana, he drives a Porsche, has a sprawling house in the country and spends his time figuring out new ways to process corn (he's got a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry, among other things) in order to maximize the potential profit from each kernel. (For more on why this kind of processing is killing us, see Food, Inc., still playing in theaters and available in November on DVD.)

But something is wrong. Efforts to use lysine (a component of corn) in other products are failing because of a mysterious virus in the lysine. Finally, Whitacre reveals to his bosses that he's been receiving phone calls from their Japanese competitor, demanding $10 million for the antidote to the virus - and information about the mole inside ADM who is contaminating the lysine.

Instead of paying, ADM calls in the FBI, which sends an agent named Brian Shepherd (Scott Bakula) to Whitacre's house, to tap the business phone line he has there. But then Whitacre throws Agent Shepherd a curve; urged on by his wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), Whitacre tells Shepherd that he has information on lysine price-fixing between ADM and its competitors.

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