The exclamation mark is all-important, since it sets the tone for what is essentially The Insider by way of Richard Lester, a bright and breezy, and downright goofy examination of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in US history, topped off with a poppy, retro score by the legendary Marvin Hamlisch.
In 1992, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was a rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland when he suddenly turned FBI whistleblower, wearing a wire and carrying a hidden tape recorder in his briefcase, in order to expose his company’s multi-national price-fixing conspiracy.
So far, so laudable. The problem being Whitacre wasn’t all he appeared to be. Delusional and dishonest, he may have seen himself as one of the good guys, a de facto secret agent (he dubs himself 0014 “because I’m twice as smart as James Bond”), yet wasn’t above sticking his hand in the corporate coffers, siphoning off $9.5 million to fund his lavish lifestyle.
What could have been a po-faced, serious examination of corporate greed becomes something altogether more fun and wry, with Soderbergh, visually and tonally, adopting a jaunty, absurdly comic style that brings to mind Peter Sellers and Richard Lester, while Damon, who gained 30lbs and sports an unflattering moustache, is a simply brilliant, his superbly comedic performance nailing the complicated inner workings of the unreliable and wildly imaginative Whitacre, but never losing sight of the man behind the lies.