This week, Steven Soderbergh's The Informant is getting the theatrical treatment and word has been mostly good. I'm interested in seeing what Matt Damon and Soderbergh (and corn, to recall the trailer) have done with this story. I'm a huge fan of Kurt Eichenwald's book, and I was a little taken aback when I first saw clips from the film. It appears they've turned some hefty and complex material into a comedy of sorts. I was expecting The Insider with corn but I welcome the tonal shift (assuming it works), particularly because it actually makes sense when you consider the shenanigans Damon's character involves himself with. In truth, this is probably a story that would only work with a large amount of levity.
In honor of this pending release, here are ten alphabetically-arranged corporate-themed movies that have a place in my heart. I tried to emphasize films that really were about corporations, corporate life, etc. It's a subjective area to get into, but I didn't include Citizen Kane because its tale of the corruption of an idealistic man is so much more than a corporate-themed film and is arguably the greatest film of all time, anyway. And I didn't include other movies like Robocop for one reason or another, none of which question their quality. Regardless, here we go.
I haven't seen this HBO movie in eons, but it always left a lasting impression. It's based on the popular book by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, and while this movie is essentially a comedy, it's a fascinating insider's look at corporate America and backstabbing, with a whole lot of business terms I couldn't even begin to comprehend. Of all the movies on this list, it seems to be the closest cousin to The Informant tonally. It's a very funny, sharp flick.
Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot's documentary has an interesting assignment: to look at the corporation through the lens of a psychiatrist. The film concludes ("sets out to prove" is probably the better way to put it) that corporations, by their very nature and how they act or respond to society, are psychopaths. It's a pretty interesting documentary that is worth viewing for the parts more so than the sum. I can promise you this, however: after watching this movie, you will never be more careful of what milk you drink.
Here is a movie that is less interested in sending a message than it is putting a smile on your face. Sure, there's irony at play and our protagonist falls prey to some of the ills of the corporate culture, but for the most part this movie plays as a screwball comedy by way of the Coen brothers. If anything, this film is a celebration of ideas and how even the greediest old farts in the universe can't keep a good idea and a good man like Norville Barnes down.
Mislabeled as a movie about the tobacco industry, The Insider is a substantial film about the dangers of a system where people get their news from a corporation that has its own self interests at heart. And when you realize how a corporation can only be characterized as a sociopath, it becomes very scary business indeed. Russell Crowe and Al Pacino are crazy good in Michael Mann's best film.
Michael Clayton is one of my favorite modern corporate thrillers because even though the events culminated are completely outlandish, it feels freaky-deaky real. You see all the negative fallout of corporate greed in this flick -- disillusionment, delusion, paranoia, nihilism, madness -- and the satisfying finale is handled the way you would expect a corporate takeover finale would go, which is surprising for a thriller of this ilk. Think Michael J. Fox overtaking Fred Gwynne at the end of The Secret of My Success, only with less Helen Slater and a lot less jowls.
Decades before The Insider, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky explored the same grotesque consequences of corporate-owned news media, only with a more satirical approach. The funniest thing about the movie today is that it ain't nearly as funny as it used to be. Chayefsky was a prophet largely ignored. What was absurd in 1976 is now standard operating procedure. Network warned us of the circus, but by the time The Insider came around on its little tricycle in 1999, we were already covered in clown makeup.
This comedy didn't make much noise upon its release but it's become required viewing for human beings not dead since. Unless you're just really wealthy, when you graduate high school you go out and get yourself a job or you engage in some sort of higher education. And somewhere in between your eventual successes and failures you will have seen Office Space and it will have spoken to you.
If you dig this movie, you dig it because it digs you. You wonder if it's followed you through every job you've ever had and you're not even creeped out over it it. Because this movie knows exactly what you deal with in your every day life: your insecurities, your dreams, your pet peeves, your disdain. It knows what restaurants you've frequented. It knows the dark, embarrassing moments you may have had at a red light. It knows what you've wanted to say to your bosses at one point or another. And it doesn't matter that its an exaggerated version of those things. It's satire. You know that and it knows that you know that. Both parties understand each other perfectly. Love is in the air. It doesn't even matter that it stopped being laugh-out-loud funny to you a while ago. When you love something, it could have gained weight and gotten old, you forgive these things because you've been together so long, you're practically stuck together.
There's something about watching two old racist richer-than-rich snobby white guys get taken down by a homeless '80s-era Eddie Murphy. In the '80s, you had three guys who dominated their arena: Murphy, Tyson, and Jackson. One of them died, the other two appear to have gone nuts. Shame.
So good it spawned a sequel! Er, 23 years later. Next year we get Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (um, title change!). Gordon Gekko (not the insurance lizard) became an '80s icon, even a hero to some, much to Oliver Stone's dismay. If it weren't for this movie, we probably would have thought "insider trading" was some Martha Stewart interior design technique.
Mike Nichol's film still works today. I know this because it's almost impossible not to catch Working Girl on regular TV at least once every three months. And you know what? I don't really find myself switching the channel too much -- and I have a serious Melanie Griffith allergy. Instead of sneezing, I usually want to punch myself in the face. I'm able to resist that urge with this movie, though. Maybe it's Joan Cusack's The Housewives of New Jersey-style hair and makeup, I don't know. Whatever it is, it works.
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Dre writes for a corporation through Film.com weekly. Email him!