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When Mark Whitacre heard that Steven Soderbergh, the Academy Award-winning director of Traffic, would be making a movie about his life and that chiseled Mr. Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon, would be playing him, he probably imagined something quite different from The Informant! (rated R for profanity).
After all, his story is the stuff of great drama-a high-ranking executive spies on his own company for the FBI while dealing with bipolar disorder and embezzling millions of dollars. Little did he know, his story is also the stuff of great comedy. Soderbergh and Damon play Whitacre's personality quirks against the foibles of our corporate culture for a film that's rarely dramatic but always amusing.
Consider, if you will, the mind of a man who fully expects that once he has helped the state make a case against his company for price-fixing, the board of directors will appoint him the next president. It only makes sense since everyone above him is going to be fired or in jail. That's the mind of Mark Whitacre as imagined by Soderbergh-a mind that's at once incredibly brilliant yet hilariously naïve. It's that combination that convinces Whitacre that he can steal $9 million while under close government scrutiny and later, when caught, that he'll be able to lie his way out of it.
We may not all play high-stakes games of corporate espionage, but Whitacre's skill at self-delusion and justification should be familiar and funny to anyone. When The Informant! focuses on such common human failings with laser-precision wit, it's a satire worthy of Jonathan Swift. Unfortunately, the final scenes turn darker and skewer Whitacre more harshly than reality suggests he deserves.
The real Mark Whitacre turned to the president and to the Lord for pardon. The Mark Whitacre of the film continues in his deceit in a scene that smacks of condescension on the part of the filmmakers, who apparently forgot that such temptations have no doubt overtaken them at one time or another as well.