I first heard Mark Whitacre’s story on the This American Life’ Podcast (definitely recommended as a side note). Apparently a screenwriter also heard that particular podcast and thought it would make an interesting screenplay and that's how the movie The Informant came to be. So I was very familiar with the original source material before going into the film, which is important to know from the outset.
I don’t want to give to many of the plot twists away but for those of you who don’t know ‘The Informant’ is about a high powered executive, Mark Whitacre who knows about some highly illegal activity going on inside the company he works for and he subsequently becomes an informant for the FBI for 2 and a half years in order to (ask Mark puts it ) ‘Catch the bad guys.’
To be completely honest I found listening to the podcast of the true story a lot more interesting than the film interpretation. I think the film could have been a lot better if they had not decided to make it a comedy and just focused on telling the true story of Mark Whitacre. Instead the film is layered with quirk and funny lines which distract from the main story. In the podcast they went into detail explaining some of the business terms that were used in the story such as 'price fixing' and what they mean. The film works from the point of view that the average person already knows what these things are and if I didn't already know the back story I would have been very confused by not only the jargon that was being used but also the entire plot. But Maybe that's just because I'm not very business savvy!
While Matt Damon, did create an interesting character in Mark Whitacre, when they interviewed the real Mark he was nothing like the character presented in the film. I know that you could probably use the argument of artistic license, but if I wonder how the real Mark Whitacre feels about how he was portrayed in this film. The real Mark is very intelligent, he has bi-polar disorder and I suspect he's also a compulsive liar but to the outside observer he appears to be just a regular guy. Matt Damon's Whitacre is a bit of a buffoon and has a child like innocence about him.
I also found the art direction slightly odd. The film is set in the 90's but based on the look of the film you would think it was either the 60's or the 80's. If this was an intentional choice by the film maker to show that Mark is quite out of date with the rest of the world*, then it should have been just Mark and possibly his wife styled this way, and the rest of the film styled in a very identifiably 90's look to show the contrast. Maybe I'm being nit picky here but I think that the visual is also a very relevant component to the overall film.
* An example of this being done well is in the film The Castle, The film was made and set in the late 90's (and looks like it is) but the Kerrigan family all still dress like it is the mid 80's to show how out of touch they are.
Most great films could arguably be described as a good story, well told. I would describe this film as a good story, badly told.