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Where does he really stand? (l-r) Melanie Lynskey and Damon in The Informant!

There Was a Crooked Man

By Laura Leon

The Informant!

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Far less grave than Michael Mann’s The Insider, Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! is a roller-coaster ride through the inner workings of an FBI investigation and, more importantly, the mind of a seemingly straight-A poindexter. Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is young, paunchy and on the fast track; the president of the bioproducts division of Archer Daniels Midland, he’s obsessed with how corn products fuel the economy, and doesn’t mind one bit boring his son to tears about it. But Mark’s got a problem. Seems that ADM is involved in a price-fixing scheme over its superstar amino acid, lysine, and when sales projections begin to falter (due to a lysine virus), Mark’s dudgeon takes a decidedly personal turn. Claiming that he was contacted by an associate who promises to cure the virus in exchange for big bucks, Mark draws the attention of the FBI and Justice Department, which begins a tumultuous multiyear partnership. Whitacre agrees to wear a wire in order to gain the kind of hard evidence that will prove the case.

Herein lies the great farcical beauty of The Informant!: We watch Mark, face buried in the hidden mic in his lapel, explain his entrance into headquarters, or fiddle quite obviously with his tape recorder in the middle of an ADM meeting. His FBI handlers (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) watch, horrified, from a remote location as their mole repeatedly does things that could jeopardize the whole operation, but agree that for all his bumbling, he’s achieving results.

Throughout, however, one can’t shake the feeling that Whitacre isn’t really all there; that something’s up. Perhaps it’s the way he keeps up the verbal attacks on the two men who were his immediate supervisors, and who had questioned his ability when the lysine virus was wreaking havoc on the financials. Or how he asks the FBI agents for assurance that, once this is all over, he’ll still be “all right with the company.” Whitacre displays the jaunty joviality of the Midwesterner, as well as a stereotypical lack of intellectual verve. He’d be right at home in one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early stories, except he’s so decidedly a creature of our own times.

Toward the end of the movie, when the FBI and government officials realize that their big case isn’t what they thought it was, the viewer keeps hoping that the next revelation will show all. But whenever Whitacre—who is obsessed with Tom Cruise and The Firm—insists that he’s telling the whole story, another shoe drops. In some ways, The Informant! is maddening, as Whitacre is incapable of the truth, or following simple instructions.

This is Damon’s film, and not just because almost everybody else in the movie is relatively unknown outside stand-up comedy. He relishes the chance to play someone for whom amiability is part and parcel of a particular psychosis. Damon is playing with our longstanding impression of him as a really nice guy, but the performance is worlds away from the sinister underpinnings of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

We see people like Whitacre every day on the news, and we always ask, how did he think he could get away with it? Was he that stupid? The fact that we, in watching The Informant!, continually seek to sort out what makes Whitacre tick, or to find the one thing that makes sense of it all, proves that we’re just as susceptible to being hornswoggled as the next guy.

The Devil in Miss Fox

Jennifer’s Body

Directed by Karyn Kusama

Jennifer’s Body, a teen-scream flick about an imperious high-school temptress, can be viewed as a satirical antidote to Twilight’s gauzy romanticism. Here, Jennifer (Megan Fox) has an occult encounter that lampoons the dangers of unprotected female lust. After a night out at the local roadhouse to watch an out-of-town band with her BFF, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), Jennifer is abducted for a virgin sacrifice. But since casual sex is her favorite extracurricular activity, she survives the knifing and is resurrected as an imperious demoness. And that’s just one of the witty contradictions in Diablo Cody’s teen-trendy script that equates the socio-sexual anxieties of adolescence with flesh eating. By way of seducing her victims, Jennifer tongue-twists their deepest insecurities and then disgusts them with graphic descriptions of carnal violence (it’s the boys here who make stupid sorority-girl moves such as walking into an abandoned house in the middle of the night).

Jennifer torments her more intelligent friend by tantalizing her with her depraved activities, and then arguing that Needy is insane. This element of suspense—is Needy hallucinating or speaking the truth about the unspeakable?—is hoary rather than horrifying, but it allows the girls to have creepy conversations that satirize the usual best-friend jealousies and in-crowd infighting. Cody won an Oscar for her screenplay for Juno, and while no one from this crew should expect a nomination (though Seyfried is practically Oscar caliber), the skin- crawling dialogue gets under the skin of an oppressive friendship. “Jennifer is evil!” confesses Amanda to her adoring and wholesome guy pal, Chip (Johnny Simmons). “Not high-school evil, evil evil!”

Also compensating for the lack of a scary plot is a clever running joke about the indie band, who turn to Satanism instead of a gig on Letterman to get radio play. The band’s lead singer is impersonated with insouciance by the O.C.’s Adam Brody, and though the film’s hotness quotient is trotted out a little too often (“I’m scrumptious,” says Jennifer, in an understatement), the teenage girls who will most appreciate this film can at least enjoy actors who are considerably “saltier” (and more talented) than those in run-of-the-mall slasher flicks.

—Ann Morrow


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