Mark Whitacre (Damon) is a high-level executive at ADM, a mega-corporation that supplies corn-related chemicals used in food production. When he notifies his boss (Papa) that the Japanese are plotting to ruin the company, two FBI agents (Bakula and McHale) come to investigate. Then Mark informs them that ADM bosses are involved in a price-fixing scam, offering to work undercover to expose the crimes. Over the next few years, he records key meetings and provides extensive evidence. But something isn't quite right here.
Soderbergh tells this story as a comical caper, with lively camerawork, witty editing and a superbly bouncy score by Marvin Hamlisch. Virtually all of the supporting roles are played by comedians who approach the roles dead-straight but add a serious twinkle to the film. We even get the great Dick and Tom Smothers in key side roles (as a judge and ADM's owner, respectively). None of this makes the film an all-out comedy, but we laugh all the way through it.
Damon is terrific at the centre, perfectly portraying a slightly pudgy Midwestern businessman with his feathery hair-do and too-eager smile. His interaction with everyone else is fraught with innuendo: it's clear from the start that Mark is up to something, although we're not sure what that might be, so each revelation hits us like a perfectly timed punchline. As his rather too-knowing wife, Lynskey is also wonderfully suggestive. And both are marvellously balanced by the befuddled, over-serious people around them.
And this is much more than an entertaining mystery-romp. It's also a perceptive glimpse into personal and corporate greed. How much money and power would you try to get illicitly if you thought no one would catch you? Does this mean you're mentally imbalanced or simply amoral? And isn't the whole world run by this kind of shady dealing anyway? Essentially, we realise along the way that every company and government is complicit in illegal, unethical business. And that's what makes this hilariously fast and smart comedy rather scary as well.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th September 2009
Box Office USA: $33.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $35.4M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Fresh: 166 Rotten: 45
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, Melanie Lynskey as Ginger Whitacre, Scott Bakula as Brian Shepard, Patton Oswalt as Ed Herbst, Joel McHale as Robert Herndon, Ann Dowd as Kate Medford, Tom Papa as Mick Andreas, Eddie Jemison as Kirk Schmidt, Clancy Brown as Aubrey Daniel, Tony Hale as James Epstein, Dick Smothers as Judge Harold Baker, Tom Smothers as Dwayne Andreas, Paul F. Tompkins as Anthony D'Angelo