A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)

Matt Damon and Tony Hale in The Informant!
Mark Whitacre: Matt Damon
Ginger Whitacre: Melanie Lynskey
FBI Special Agent Brian Shepard: Scott Bakula
FBI Special Agent Robert Herndon: Joel McHale
Mark Cheviron: Thomas F. Wilson
Mick Andreas: Tom Papa
Terry Wilson: Rick Overton
James Epstein: Tony Hale

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns
Based on a book by Kurt Eichenwald
Cinematography: Steven Soderbergh
Production design: Doug J. Meerdink
Film editing: Stephen Mirrione
Çomposer: Marvin Hamlisch

Both Erin Brockovich (Steven Soderbergh, 2000) and The Informant! are based on true stories about people who exposed corporate malfeasance. But while the former movie was a solid piece of entertainment showcasing a star turn for Julia Roberts, it was also one that could have been made by any good director. The Informant! is the work of an auteur, a director with a distinct, even idiosyncratic style and a clear point of view, a measure of how Steven Soderbergh has grown in technique and confidence. You can sense that from the gratuitous exclamation point appended to the title and the clunky font, redolent of rock posters from the psychedelic era, that has been imposed on the screen credits. Soderbergh is out to play with our expectations of what a film about a whistleblower cooperating with the FBI should be like. The cast is full of comedians and actors who usually play comedy, such as Joel McHale, Tony Hale, Scott Adsit, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, and both Smothers Brothers -- Tom is a senior executive at Archer Daniels Midland and Dick is a judge -- all of them playing it straight. Their presence creates a kind of tension in the film: We keep expecting them to break out into familiar comic shtick -- for Tony Hale, for example, as Mark Whitacre's continually surprised lawyer to turn into the busybody political factotum he plays on Veep -- but they don't. Soderbergh's ironic tone is designed to fit the facts: Mark Whitacre may have been out to expose the crookedness rife at ADM by cooperating with the FBI, but he was a crook himself. We begin to sense that Whitacre may be a little bit off when we start hearing his thoughts in voiceover, meditations on polar bears and butterflies and anything else that crosses his mind, a delicious stream of consciousness that doesn't begin to hint at the complications of the character. Matt Damon gives one of his best performances as the chubby, cheerful, and morally unhinged Whitacre, and Scott Z. Burns, who had previously written a very different character for Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007), gives him wonderful things to say and do. Under his pseudonym, Peter Andrews, Soderbergh is his own cinematographer for The Informant! and he chooses slightly faded colors and casts a soft haze over many scenes, creating a subtly dated atmosphere for a film set in the early '90s, the era before ubiquitous cell phones and laptops. This is a sleeper of a film that almost went under my radar.

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