Magazine article Tikkun

Political Pictures

Magazine article Tikkun

Political Pictures

Article excerpt



THE INFORMANT! Warner Brothers, 2009

DISTRICT 9, TriStar Pictures, 2009

Review by David Sterriti

BEFORE GETTING TO A PAIR OF top-notch pictures that everyone should see- The Informant! and District 9- I want to return briefly to the fuss I recently made about Kathryn Bigelows movie The Hurt Locker, which brilliantly depicts the moment-to-moment realities of the Iraq war without showing any interest in the politics behind the war. What bothered me was the yawning gap between the movie's excellence as cinema and its deficiency as history and commentary- a gap that takes on dismaying importance in a film about the most perfidious and disastrous geopolitical event so far this century. It wouldn't have been difficult for Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to inject a few sequences where, say, soldiers candidly discuss the war or transmit their views to friends, relatives, or veterans groups back home. This would have added to the picture's realism, since soldiers naturally talk about such things. Without that dimension, the film is an exciting war drama but a sadly missed opportunity.

I bring this up again because some cynics take movies like The Hurt Locker as evidence that Hollywood is downright phobic about political issues. That idea would drive me out of the reviewing business if it were true, because we'd be stuck forever in the self-renewing loop of an apolitical society producing apolitical movies that influence the apolitical society that produces more apolitical movies ... and on and on. But popular films can be smart and politiceli when they want to be, and lately they've wanted that on more than one occasion.

I'm particularly pleased with The Informant! because its director, Steven Soderbergh, disappointed me last year by falling short of the enormous potential he was presented with in Che, his two-part Che Guevara biopic. Although he doesn't always let it show, Soderbergh has canny political instincts- his 2000 pictures Traffic and Erin Brockovich are good examples- and in The Informant! he parleys them into a funny and ingenious tale that's fact-based and intelligent to boot.

The Informant! is a tricky movie to discuss, however, because if you know its plot twists in advance (there are about a thousand of them) you'll miss the fun of being taken repeatedly by surprise. So don't worry, I won't be too much of an informant. Suffice it to say that Matt Damon plays a wheeler-dealer named Mark Whitacre who's climbing choerxully up the ladder at Archer Daniels Midland, the giant agribusiness corporation. One day he approaches his boss with the information that there's a mole in their midst sabotaging part of their operation while feeding information to one of their competitors. Asked how he learned about this, Mark names an overseas contact who wants to blackmail the firm. Mark's boss alerts the FBI and an earnest-looking agent visits Mark's home to set up security measures before the extortionist calls again.

That's as much as I can say without giving away too much, even though we're only a few minutes into the film. I will add, though, that the cast is excellent: Damon gets steadily better as the years go by; Scott Bakula gives a flawless minimalist performance as the main FBI agent; Melanie Lynskey is perfect as Mark's perfect wife; and everyone else is splendid. …

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