Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Cast: Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Runtime: 108 min.
Verdict: A Soderbergh special. A Damon special. I think it might be a great film.
Genre: Comedy, Drama

        I walk out of the theatre to the parking not knowing whether to laugh, or to cry. You see, I lie. All the time. It is an instinct. Even when I tell the truth, I’m suspicious of myself. That I might be convenient about the truth. I think we all lie. More than to others, we lie to ourselves. Nothing bad I suppose. Often we don’t even know we are lying. How well do we really know ourselves? I don’t know. I’m often afraid of myself, and what I might say and what I might do in a given situation. I practice so hard to do the right thing, mock situations in my mind, so that when the time comes, my habit overwrites my instinct. What is that instinct by the way? What is that thing I’m practicing? Is my instinct to lie a lie, or is my instinct to do the right thing a convenient truth? I don’t know, it is all pretty mixed up in there. I think we all are different people at different times. Or are we the same person acting differently? I really don’t know. I really don’t know if I shall ever find the answers.
        And neither does Mr. Soderbergh. Nor the great performance from Mr. Damon, arguably this year’s finest turn by any actor. Yes, that includes the genius of Mr. Waltz. I claim without a shred of doubt hat there is no other actor who could’ve played the part. Oh, I might be wrong. Maybe the brilliant William H. Macy. There is something in their speech patterns, of Mr. Macy and Mr. Damon. There is something in their eyes. I know not for sure, but the characters they etch with such layers of contradictions, that I never seem to be sure of their morality. Eyes are the windows. Most actors have a fixed pair of eyes. I know the range of a George Clooney. I know the range of an Irfaan Khan. I know the range of a Benicio Del Toro. I can read their eyes. Not Mr. Damon. Not Mr. Macy. These two seem to be something else. I suspect, for various reasons, these two might be two of the greatest actors working today. Or okay, if not that, arguably the two most fluent actors of our generation. They aren’t intense. You see, intensity is something that calls attention to itself. These two actors seem to be a chunk of our everyday lives. They just exist, piling contradiction upon contradiction.
        Roger Ebert, once again, provides a superb bit of articulation of the greatness of Mr. Damon, which might easily be extended to Mr. Macy as well. He says, ending his appreciative review here
              "Mark Whitacre, released a little early after FBI agents called him “an American hero,” is now an executive in a high-tech start-up in California and still married to Ginger. Looking back on his adventure, he recently told his hometown paper, the Decatur Herald and Review, “It's like I was two people. I assume that's why they chose Matt Damon for the movie, because he plays those roles that have such psychological intensity. In the ‘Bourne' movies, he doesn't even know who he is.”
I guess Mr. Ebert chooses to include such wonderful bits is the reason why we read him so often.

        The Informant! is about the real life corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre. The organization in question was ADM. The crime in question is price-fixing. One might be reminded of such recent films as The Insider, A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich. One might even be expecting such a tale. Since it comes from the lens of Mr. Soderbergh, it even seems to boast of the same grainy texture, and the same color palette as Erin Brockovich. Whitacre, agreed to be an insider for the FBI to bring down ADM and its price-fixing scam. But that is just half the story.
        Mr. Soderbergh, one of Hollywood’s true liberals, is looking deeper. He is looking at the simplified nature of those true stories – of Jeffrey Wigand, of Brockovich – and asking himself – Is it just that the corporate, the system that is bad all the time? I applaud that, I applaud that line of questioning, that line of introspection. One might even claim that The Informant! is a noirish tale. I would have to agree, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is cynical in any way. Because it isn’t. It is true. Much of the politics of cinema so conveniently assumes the innocence of the citizen, and the absolute oppression of the system. Even literature. Mr. Soderbergh is hoping to venture beyond that, and shed some light on a completely new facet of the equation. And interestingly every scene is lit, and every scene has an abundance of the light source. I think he is drilling his way onto the real reason behind it all. Till now, it has always been Us versus Them. But really, how different are Us from Them? Doesn’t what drive Them drive Us too? Ever heard of greed?
        He goes about unraveling his point the funny way. And boy, what a hilarious film The Informant! is. The credit goes to the superlative writing, a near masterpiece of narrative clarity and density. Not since There Will Be Blood and Zodiac has there been a script so concise, and yet so vast. It also goes to the great performance from Mr. Damon, and his enthusiastic voice-over. He is speaking to a lawyer and he is wondering about the tie. How often don’t we do that, how often don’t we find ourselves within the control of our meandering mind? Whitacre is not Jeffery Wigand, burdened by the fear of personal losses. He is smarter, way smarter, and he is sharper. And the thing is, he knows he is smarter. He likes being smarter. He has the innocence of a little child. I think there is a competition within him. He asks the FBI to code him 0014. You know why. Yeah, double as smart as you know who. I think he likes being in a situation. So does the film, in an ironical way, and it scores him with such an upbeat score of guitars and pianos, as he marches onto glory. In his own eyes, I think. I believe the trick to Mr. Damon’s greatness is that he doesn’t create so much as an arc for his character, as much as he plays it moment for moment, believing in each one of them wholeheartedly. Method actors put their methods to the whole character. Damon, I guess, believes wholeheartedly in the moment.
        But there is a revelation at the end, which felt like a betrayal. I don’t hold the film responsible, for they were merely serving us the facts. I felt betrayed by life, I guess, for I don’t feel Mark Whitacre’s medical condition had anything to do with it. The judge at the end claims that Whitacre is different from the usual thug. I don’t think so. He is the usual thug. On the emotional level behind his crime, he is no different than us. He has the most loving and understanding wife one could ever hope to have. He has a loving set of parents. But still, portraying oneself has a hero standing against the tides of life is everybody’s notion of oneself. Even if the tides never existed.

Note Added (11-Nov-2009): I think I might have finally understood the precise belief that drove a guy like Whitacre - that he was too good for most places, and most people.


Mishra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mishra said...

Hi Naidu,

Really liked the first para. about Lies and instincts.

Just one thing: shouldn't the last para need to have Spoiler Alert above it. :)

man in the iron mask said...

Manish, technically, it should. And I thought of it too.

Ah, what the heck. I had to get my point across.

I shall surely make that a point in the near future.

Toto said...

Hi Sathish,
A good review and looking forward to see this movie. Thanks.