"It has moments and actors that really work."
You've been lied to about The Informant!. It's not the clever and silly story of an informant, strands of Office Space and The Hudsucker Proxy running through it. No, in fact, it has much more in common with dark and brooding character studies such as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Fight Club. Is it as good as any of these titles? Not nearly. But I wanted to dispose of the marketing lie right from the get-go. There. Now it's been disposed of. Let's move on.
Matt Damon is "the Informant" -- a senior level executive at Archer Daniels Midland, a company that, according to their website:
transforms crops such as corn, oilseeds, wheat, and cocoa into food, feed, and agriculturally derived fuels and chemicals.
Obviously, with a mission statement like that you could get away with bloody murder. I mean, what does that even mean? And ADM is doing so, at least until white knight Matt Damon begins cooperating with the FBI -- this plot point forms the crux of the initial narrative (and that pesky marketing). But where the movie deviates from this is pure spoiler territory so we're not going to get into it.
What the film does well is casting Matt Damon. He's very good in this role, even though tonally the film is weird. The pacing is also completely off; nothing happens for a good long while, a few site gags, and then a boatload of info is dumped upon you. The Informant! seems to be Soderbergh's attempt to bridge the divide between his commercial (Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen) and his non-commercial (The Girlfriend Experience, Che, Solaris) work. The film has some of the gloss of the Ocean's projects while retaining the expectation upon the audience to not completely check out.
Joel McHale and Scott Bakula are also solid in their roles as the FBI agents tasked with bringing Damon's case in. They're at once confused, upset, jocular, and conscientious ... no small feat for about 20 minutes of screen time. There's also a Cusack in this film! Ann Cusack is McHale and Bakula's superior within the Bureau -- she also speaks with that delightful and instantly recognizable Cusack accent. Good times.
I suppose I'm willing to forgive The Informant! for the false advertising, overall lack of direction, and semi-coherent plot because it has moments and actors that really work. They don't fill an equitable percentage of the film, but they're the things that stay with you after you walk out. In the end, it seems as though it's better to aim for searing moments and whiff on greatness than to shoot for the middle and hit it.