This is a satirical biography, a comedy based on a real person's life. Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, a man who made headlines in the mid-1990s when it was revealed that he was an FBI informant, a whistle-blower. However, it becomes increasingly apparent that Whitacre is not the best informant that the FBI ever had. In fact, he's in the running as the worst.
In Decatur, Ill., Whitacre works as an executive at Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM, an agricultural company that provides food ingredients. A problem with a food additive ADM makes called lysine prompts suspicion of sabotage. The FBI starts to investigate, and Whitacre surprisingly reveals to them a price-fixing conspiracy between ADM and several other major agricultural companies.
Based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald, this tale about a tattletale is less concerned with corporate corruption and more concerned with making a mockery of this one man.
Whitacre is passive-aggressively ambitious. He was a scientist who all of a sudden became a company man who got all these perks. Whitacre knows something is wrong, but he likes driving fancy cars and traveling all over the world. He likes the money. He likes the importance.
He'll do anything and say anything to keep that money and importance. However, it's unfortunate that the money and importance come illegally. The opportunity he gets to work with the FBI and end the illegal activity may seem noble and good, but Whitacre seems all too eager to help the feds. He smells of a secret agenda.
Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh crafts an interesting vehicle here, peppering it with a wealth of comedic actors like Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Tony Hale and Dick Smothers. They're the comic relief but not in the traditional sense. Their jobs are to play it straight, and out of that we get hilarity. Most of the outright laughs go to Damon who creates probably the funniest role of his career. His character is so ridiculous that played opposite these serious comedians and comedic actors make him seem even funnier.
Damon makes great use of his wig and moustache. His behavior, his mannerisms, had me captivated, but what had me cracking up was his dialogue, or rather his monologues. Damon's Whitacre is a man who loves to talk, even when he's not supposed to talk.
In almost every scene, Whitacre is trying to talk his way out of something. When Whitacre isn't doing that, he's still talking, not out loud but in voice-over narration. Except, it's not really narration. Most time, it's funny trivia or odd musings, from the many uses of corn to how you can buy panties in Japanese vending machines.
The one musing I didn't appreciate was one about polar bears and black noses. The reason why I didn't wasn't because it wasn't funny. The problem was I had heard it before. It's almost word-for-word copy of a joke that Ricky Gervais did for his Emmy-nominated special this year on HBO.
Soderbergh certainly doesn't shoot this like conventional comedies. The light from windows in almost every indoor scene was overexposed. Almost every indoor light for that matter had a haze to it. The look most often was dream-like, as if Soderbergh was trying to indicate to us of how dream-like or unbelievable this man and what he did was. Yet, it was real.
It was real, even though Whitacre himself hardly thought so of any of it. Most of the time, he thought he was living out a Michael Crichton or John Grisham novel. The truth is Steven Soderbergh has placed Matt Damon in the middle of something resembling a mix of The Insider and Shattered Glass.
I finally must admit that I loved the music cues. The majority of them sounded like cheery yet quirky 1950s music. It varied though from bluegrass to big band. It accentuated the moods strangely, but I was bopping my head all the way.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 48 mins.