A singularly unqualified corporate spy helps the FBI uncover a giant corporate price-fixing scam.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, and Melanie Lynskey
Review by Jon Kissel
People need constant reminders that their brains crave what can only be called laziness and stupidity. The path of least resistance in comprehending any phenomenon saves precious glucose, and it takes energy not just to consider complex issues, but to force oneself to allow for the possibility of their existence in the first place. Any time someone says ‘common sense,’ they’re appealing to a worn-out brain that just wants to be told that things are simple. The Informant provides a sterling example of this, where the viewer is presented with a dramatic theft by one man and thousands upon thousands of imperceptible thefts that lead to a consequential bag of loot, but the former attracts all the attention while the latter is an afterthought that’s too boring to put in front of the camera. The directing and writing team extraordinaire of Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns compound this imbalance by making a farce out of what was a tremendous corporate crime, dressing up the details with bluegrass music and talented comedic actors playing stuffy lawyers and FBI agents. The Informant is the equivalent of waving something shiny in front of the viewer to distract from something hugely important just beyond the field of vision, except here, the shiny thing is an A-list star bulking out and dressing down to portray a Midwestern huckster knee-deep in corporate espionage.
Steven Soderbergh gave a speech in 2013 about the state of cinema, and what he interpreted as a dire future for the art form. Directors like him who operated in the mid-budget range were being squeezed out in favor of micro-budget horror and macro-budget spectacle, trends that haven’t abated in the last five years. If a studio didn’t envision a narrow, Academy-friendly path forward for a film that wasn’t either of those, it wasn’t going to get made, or if it was, it was going to be dumped and disrespected and kept away from wider audiences. In the time since that speech, Soderbergh has been the visual master behind a best-of-the-decade prestige drama series, experienced the exact mid-budget underperformance that he talked about, and gone experimental to conform to the low end of the budget continuum, namely shooting two movies on an iPhone. The first, Unsane, did marginally well in theaters, but the second, High Flying Bird, skipped theaters altogether and went straight to Netflix, the studio equivalent of HBO at the dawn of the Golden Age of Television such that they throw money at creators and take a big step back. Soderbergh is a director who thinks clearly and publicly about his next moves and how they fit within the framework of his industry, making him the perfect director to bring High Flying Bird into the world because it’s about someone very much like him.
World class parodies sadly don’t make money, but it would be better for moviegoers and filmmakers if they were more successful. Formulaic romantic comedies don’t get made if the public recognized their hacky tropes from They Came Together. Cop thrillers get 50% better if Naked Gun is playing on a loop by craft services, and the Lonely Island HBO Sports specials would force future 30 for 30 directors to raise their game. Of all these, it’s Walk Hard that is apparently the most underseen, because that John C. Reilly comedic masterpiece filets not only the musical biopic but the biopic in general, making it impossible for an ineffectual writer to coast on the shorthand of a Greatest Hits list. It’s been over ten years since Walk Hard’s release, and the makers of Bohemian Rhapsody clearly thought that was enough time to put in the rearview. Just as Dewey Cox is cribbing from serious musician biopics, Bohemian Rhapsody seems to be cribbing from Walk Hard. On the one hand, if stealing must happen, then steal from the best. On the other hand, this film exemplifies the worst and laziest of the genre, sabotaging any future attempt to flesh out one of pop music’s grandest personalities and generating exactly as much entertainment value as any single youtube video of Queen.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.