Mark Whitacre is, at times comically, a pathological liar who may or may not suffer from Bipolar Disorder. At least, this is the way he's portrayed by Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!". Soderbergh makes no attempt to hide that, yes, the events are based on a real life account of the former Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) executive turned FBI informant, but the story has been altered for the sake of creative license. Going as far to warn the audience with an opening written disclaimer that ends with the phrase "So there."

Whitacre's department is losing money. A lot of it. He explains to his superiors that he had just received a phone call from a Japanese competitor admitting to Whitacre that said competitor has a high ranking executive disguised as a mole at ADM sabotaging operations. The story sounds fishy from the beginning but the FBI are called in to investigate. Agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) taps Whitacre's phone lines in an attempt to get proof of Whitacre's account. It's at this time that Whitacre -- at the encouragement of his wife -- admits to agent Shepard that ADM has been involved in a price fixing scandal involving lysine.

Shepard and partner Bob Herndon (Joel McHale) convince a reluctant Whitacre to wear a wire in an effort to collect definitive evidence. At first, Whitacre seems to resist; almost regretting his decision to squeal. Going as far as trying to convince Shepard and Herndon that the price fixing was over -- there's a new policy at ADM! Soon, though, Whitacre embraces his role as an informant. Seeing himself as some sort of pseudo super spy and, of course, telling almost anyone who will listen about his new found profession. Unfortunately, for Shepard and Herndon, Whitacre's credibility starts to unravel at a breakneck pace that puts this entire case, and three years of surveillance, in jeopardy.

Throughout the film the audience is inundated with Whiacre's inner monologue that drifts between self-aggrandizing and non sequiturs. As the film progresses and Whitacre's lies catch up with him, his inner monologue becomes more manic, less coherent and more in tune to his actual speech -- creating more than one moment where Joel McHale steals a scene just by the astonished look on his face in reaction to another admission by Whitacre.

The acting is top notch, especially Damon, Bakula and McHale (who is a joy to watch in every scene that he's in). "The Informant!" isn't as outrageous as the advertising campaign would lead one to believe -- at a full two hours, the pace is steady. At the same time, it's obvious that the real life story isn't as outrageous as the film depicts. Which is fine. This isn't a film about bringing down the tobacco companies, no lives are at stake. This is a story about the price fixing of an amino acid, it's debatable if this story would be interesting at all if played as a straight drama. Actually, rereading that last sentence it's probably not even debatable. So there.

Grade: B

Image © Warner Bros.

"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at
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