Although they are both movies about real-life corporate whistle-blowers, Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! could not be more different than Michael Mann's The Insider, a dramatic thriller about a scientist/executive who exposes the lies of the tobacco companies. The Informant!'s Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is also a scientist and high-level executive, but Soderbergh's thriller about Whitacre's exposure of price-fixing in international agribusiness is shaped as a comedy or one-man caper.
Although The Informant!'s screenplay (by Scott Z. Burns) is based on Kurt Eichenwald's book of the same name, the movie's addition of an exclamation point to its title is revealing. That bit of punctuation tells us everything about the film's tone, attitude and perspective.
Soderbergh's Whitacre is the mother of unreliable narrators. His ever-changing story and seeming motive for exposing the dirty secrets of his employer, Archer Daniels Midland, are what hold the movie together. Ultimately, The Informant! cares nothing about the evils of corporate price-fixing or the exposure of bad guys. It wants to get us in Whitacre's head with a constant stream of voiceovers.
Damon is rock solid as the pudgy, toupee-wearing informant, as is Melanie Lynskey as his loving wife. The film also represents a return to more audience-friendly fare after Soderbergh's recent forays into theoretical filmmaking with Che and The Girlfriend Experience. Maybe Soderbergh felt as though he already did a straight-ahead version of this story with Erin Brockovich and therefore decided to revamp the tune in the key of Richard Lester.
Correction: This review originally said the film is based on an autobiography by whistle-blower Kurt Eichenwald. The whistle-blower is Mark Whitacre, the subject of journalist Eichenwald's book.