What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this engaging Steven Soderbergh comedy received an R rating principally for language. The actual subject matter -- corporate misdeeds -- may only appeal to teens, however, because it stars Matt Damon. The movie is based on a true story and sends some mixed messages about corporate ethics; ethical breaches are treated somewhat lightly, which may make the crimes seem less serious. And the main character isn't exactly a role model himself. That said, teens old enough to understand the movie's tone won't miss the message about the importance of questioning greed and its place in today's society. While there's little sex or violence, you can expect some drinking and plenty of cursing (including "f--k," "s--t," and more), plus frank, sometimes complicated discussions about certain criminal activities.
What's the story?
In 1992, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) -- a high-level executive at the Arthur Daniels Midland Foundation -- became one of the biggest whistle-blowers in U.S. history when he informed the FBI that the Fortune 500 firm had been involved in an international price-fixing agreement among producers of food additives. Whitacre subsequently agreed to record meetings to help the government build its case, but little did the feds know that the whole story -- the true story -- was far more complicated than they could ever have imagined.
Is it any good?
Based on a true story, THE INFORMANT! is never what it seems. It reads espionage but winds up a farce. It looks dated, but with all the corporate intrigues in recent headlines, it feels au courant. And there's Whitacre, portrayed sympathetically by Damon, whose performance borders on caricature but doesn't cross the line. From the moment we hear him speak through voiceovers that reveal his musings -- which ping-pong from his favorite German word ("kugelschreiber") to the texture of avocado to his ambitions at ADM -- we sense that something's not quite right. But is it his company? The government? Or Mark himself?
Director Steven Soderbergh balances comedy and intrigue masterfully. Had he opted for a straightforward retelling, The Informant! could easily have veered into tedium. But this treatment feels just right. After all, Whitacre isn't your average whistle-blower: He's bumbling, indiscreet, and grandiose (at least in this take on his story). Soderbergh includes the audience while simultaneously leaving them befuddled, part of the same perplexing ride that nearly everyone else Whitacre encounters is on. The score (by Marvin Hamlisch), the set design -- it's all right on target, down to the cutesy exclamation point in the title.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about why Mark reveals what he does. Are his true motives clear? Is he ultimately a hero or a villain?
Why do companies, particiularly large ones, seem unable to prevent breaches in ethics? Is there a general culture of greed that encourages unlawful behavior?
The movie is based on a true story. Do you think filmmakers changed any of the key facts for the movie? Why would they do that? How could you find out?