I don’t quite agree with my colleague Henry Stewart’s assessment of Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! as “tonally inconsistent”: it seems to me to be a pretty straightforward ironic comedy (though it’s glib more often than it’s dark, alas, which keeps a low ceiling over the material, and may be attributable to the process-over-product mantra which Henry (rightly, I think) faults for Soderbergh’s sometimes less than finished cinema). A corporate intriguer about a whistleblower who ends up doing more jail time than his bosses, The Informant jokes, at times, that it turned out to be a different kind of movie than the people involved might have expected: FBI agents keep reframing their hidden-camera shots to actually pick up incriminating behavior. As bipolar Archer Daniels Midland exec Mark Whitacre, Matt Damon—sporting a paunch, a patchy mustache and a carpet on his head, and playing off stand-up and TV comics in bit parts—makes frequent reference to the Michael Crichton and John Grisham thrillers he is most emphatically not living in.
In fact, those Rising Sun and The Firm references are something like a passkey to the movie’s sensibility: The Informant! works best as a satire of the complacent, suburban-sprawling kitsch of Clinton-era America.