Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
A lie-filled, true-life comedy about corporate malfeasance, mental illness and Midwestern existential malaise seemed like a minor entry in Steven Soderbergh’s canon. That exclamation point in The Informant!, though, proved a perfect stinger for a jazzy, subtle and fearlessly funny 2009 film that proved a towering tall tale.
Why not let Matt Damon stretch all those humorist muscles he warmed up in three Ocean’s films? He embodies middle-aged shlubdom at its wincing best as Mark Whitacre, a mentally fractured executive with a bulging midsection and cloudburst daydreams of pop culture and “finer things.”
As Whitacre blows the whistle on price-fixing schemes at agribusiness giant ADM, his “heroism” masks a larger transgression. To watch Whitacre work is to see Keyzer Soze’s devious mind handcuffed by Jerry Lundegaard’s childish emotions, and Scott Z. Burns’s screenplay taps into his middle-grade consumerism and the sexy-fiction allure of white-collar crime.
Soderbergh never emotionalizes Whitacre but never renders him a cipher either. He’s like a kid getting a decoder ring as he jaunts around the world to bug price-fixing meetings. (Marvin Hamlisch’s ’70s TV theme-ish score amusingly tosses in Bondian flourishes to these drab locales.)
Burns’s script never attempted any rehabilitation or reconciliation for Whitacre — only more grandstanding. “I don’t know” felt like the most resoundingly true statement in The Informant!, overlit like a Lowe’s lighting section and smeared with a filter resembling a peanut-butter-and-urine combination. This effective spin on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty carried a timely bite of bad big-business behavior.