NOTE: This is a post analyzing some aspects of Steven Soderbergh's 2009 film "The Informant!" It contains lots of spoilers. I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone who has not yet seen the movie, and therefore suggest to read this only if you know the film. I don't think this text would make much sense to you if you don't, anyway
"The Informant!" is quite a great film. In my opinion, it is a perfect film. This doesn't necessarily imply that it is one of the best films ever made, for I believe that a film with minor flaws can be a better film than a perfect one. But nevertheless, there is nothing bad about it. Everything is well-done, filmmaking at its best. And it has a merit that is rare in the field of good films: It benefits from additional viewings.
Of course, watching it for the second time isn't that much fun anymore. But you start appreciating the details. And there are a lot of details in the film.
- The lighting. In all the scenes that show Mark lying, scheming or protecting his secret life as a criminal, the setting is well-lit. In all the scenes that show Mark (reluctantly) telling the truth, the setting is dimly lit: The scene at the beginning, when Mark tells Agent Shepard about the price-fixinig conspiracy the first time, is set at night. Both the scenes that show Mark confessing he a) invented the story of the bug in the lysine and b) told some ADM employees about his work with the FBI are set at night. The scene in the Chinese restaurant where Mark confesses his money laundering is quite murky, too. One could interpret this light-vs-shade constellation of the film as a a metaphor for Mark's two lives, his being a white-collar criminal and succesful businessman and a secret agent for the FBI at the same time. Maybe it also represents his manic-depressive disorder.
- Mark's stream of consciousness narration, in my opinion a great stylistic device, because it shows Mark as a character thinking about more than the stuff the plot requires him to think about. We see that this is a guy with whom you could talk about more than lysine, lysine, price fixing, lysine. It makes him more authentic as a person. One should also note that his narration becomes more and more disconnected to the plot of the film as he himself becomes more and more the target of the FBI investigation; it shows that his mind becomes increasingly detached from reality, regarding the whole operation rather as a game than a criminal investigation. My favourite scene in the movie is probably the climatic scene when his whole fairy tale suddenly collapses: Agent Shepard has noticed that Mark forged his doctor's report, and in a desperate effort to elude his questions, Mark invents one lie after another to explain the paper's odnesses. His narration and the actual plot are suddenly completely in synchronization, as his answers form in his mind and are first told to the viewer in voice-over, and then in the "real" scene to Agent Shepard. After a while of playing cat-and-mouse, Mark is asked by Shepard: "Why are you doing this? Why do you keep on lying?" Silence. Then Mark's voice says, wearily, sadly, desperate, but very calm: "I don't know." There is such suspense in the silence following this simple remark that it is a perfect climax to a crime film, better than all of Hollywood's car chases and shoot-outs and whatever put together, and now one also realizes how important it is that Soderbergh uses no music whatsovever in his dialogue scenes. Humans have a natural aversion against silence. We often call it "awkward". It leaves us helplessly dangling in a vacuum, desperately clinging to the next spoken word for safety, regardless of what it may be. We like to talk, just to prevent silence.
- The comedy. The film is intended as a comedy. I didn't even notive this when I saw it for the first time. Then I read it on the internet, and I shook my head. The film does work as a a tragicomedy. Tragicomedy is a great genre, because life itself is a tragicomedy. I don't like the genre of comedy very much, because, let's face it, it is just a lot of fun that doesn't tell us anything about life whatsoever. It isn't real. It is staged. It is obvious that it is staged. But The Informant! has such realism. It is the most real comedy I've ever seen. It is based on a true story, and one notices it. It has an odd documentary quality. Scenes from it could be shown in any real documentary about the ADM price-fixing conspiracy. How many other "biopics" this would work with do you know?