“Things going on I don’t approve of.” -Mark Whitacre from “The Informant!”
And while he has filmed many of his own scripts, usually his smaller pictures, including Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Schizopolis (1996), and Solaris (2002), Soderbergh didn’t write his newest film. The praise of “the economy of the storytelling” goes to Scott Burns, a relatively new entity to Hollywood who has only a single feature to his credit – The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) – along with some short films he wrote and directed. Burns first heard about Mark Whitacre in 2000 while listening to National Public Radio and was intrigued by him, calling Whitacre "a character we hadn’t seen before." He had a finished script, adapted from the book “The Informant: A True Story” by Kurt Eichenwald, ready to shoot by 2003, but both Soderbergh and Damon weren’t available at that time. Fortunately – for both Burns and us the audience – the director and star still wanted to make the film five years later.
Burns’ script had to shed a lot of Eichenwald’s 600 page book, but the most invented part of the screenplay didn’t even come from the source material. At one point during the writing process Burns decided to give Whitacre voice-overs throughout the film – most of which add nothing to the plot, but provide plenty of humor and insight into this strange man. Many of my favorite lines of dialogue emerged from these voice-overs. In one scene, Whitacre goes on about polar bears:
When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in. Cuz they’ve got those black noses. They’d blend in perfectly if not for the nose. So the question is: how do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water and think, ‘I’d be invisible if not for that.’ That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear.I really enjoyed the voice-overs because I’ve been in similar situations – just thinking about something else while life is going on around me. Sometimes I’ll be thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch and then moments later, through some weird chain reaction and unusual cause and effect, I’m trying to remember how many Oscar nominations A Man for All Seasons (1966) received – Jimmy John’s and eight (with six wins), respectively.
No matter when the lying began, Mark Whitacre and The Informant! are both fascinating to watch. Matt Damon transforms himself – I didn’t really see Damon playing Whitacre until the final scenes, after Whitacre shaved his mustache. Despite all the lies and misleads and betrayal, I found myself routing for Whitacre to succeed throughout the film. Even when his lies began to unravel and we were allowed to see him prepare one - the scene where he rips his jacket, musses his hair, etc., and tells Ginger, his wife, that he was "kidnapped" - I was guiltily hoping it would all work out for him. This was particularly true on the second viewing. Since I knew the outcome of Whitacre's trail of deceit, seeing him ready himself to keep his fantasy alive was actually heartbreaking to watch. The same holds true for when Agent Shepard confronts Whitacre with proof of his falsities.