It’s always an interesting experience when you can recognize that a film is a comedy, but not quite be inspired to laugh. The Informant! is one of those films. You want to laugh. You’re waiting to laugh. Yet, somehow it just doesn’t come. What’s strange in this case is that the film is well-acted, well-directed and well-written. So why doesn’t the comedy click? The problem is that the film relies too heavily on one joke told over and over again.
Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) works for Archer Daniels and Midland, which is an agri-industry company that is heavily invested in corn and its many uses in food. ADM is also embroiled in a multi-national price-fixing conspiracy. Despite being the youngest executive in the company to run his own division, Whitacre feels compelled to blow the whistle on ADM, so he brings in two FBI agents played by Scott Bakula and Joel McHale. The case against ADM moves along smoothly at first, but the more the agents get to know Mark Whitacre, the more they understand just how little they really know about him and separating fact from fiction becomes more difficult every day.
Everything in The Informant! revolves around Mark Whitacre, which is fine because Matt Damon is a marvelous actor who is a joy to watch. It’s fun to see him really fill out the role and bring it to life with little touches, ranging from careful attention to his slight Midwestern accent to subtle movements like the way he cautiously avoids touching his coif. He’s also funny when he’s required to be funny.
The wittiest parts of the comedy, however, are in Whitacre’s non-sequitur film narration. His inner monologue is full of ridiculous, unrelated thoughts, ranging from how he enjoys speaking German to his desire for an indoor pool. These thoughts, of course, are happening independent of what’s actually happening onscreen, which is funny a few times, but starts feeling belabored by the half-way point in the film as the joke is repeated over and over again with different words. It’s almost as if the film is trying too hard to be a comedy.
Even the music feels a little oppressive at times, shaping your feelings during particular scenes. At the end of the day, however, this criticism is minor considering that the music is genuinely enjoyable. It’s light and fun and Marvin Hamlisch has done a wonderful job at creating a memorable soundtrack.
Overall, audiences will be amused by The Informant! It doesn’t really follow the structure of most films. Mark Whitacre doesn’t so much change as he becomes discovered instead. That may frustrate some from a storytelling aspect, but in the end, discovering the true Mark Whitacre is really the story in and of itself, which is satisfying in its own right.