There is one important aspect to movie making that always gets short shrift if, indeed, it gets any shrift at all: music. I don’t mean “Singin’ in the Rain” type of music—I mean the score. There are some films for which the score is famous, like “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), written by Maurice Jarre—who won the Oscar® for his work—a haunting elegiac that perfectly captured the personality that director David Lean and Peter O’Toole were creating for Lawrence. “The Sting” (1973) lives in memory, largely due to Marvin Hamlisch’s score, featuring Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” I would bet that, because of the movie, more people know that music than know the movie. Despite the presence of Paul Newman, Robert Redford and director George Roy Hill, this movie sings because of Marvin Hamlisch.
“The Informant!” is film-making at its best, directed by Steven Soderbergh. Based on the true story of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), who turned government informant, on the agricultural monolith ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) in the early 1990’s, this movie is driven by Hamlisch’s spectacular score. Expertly-crafted by screenwriter Scott Z. Burns from the book by Kurt Eichenwald, Matt Damon gives the best performance of his career as the conflicted Whitacre.
Soderbergh very slowly reveals what is going on as Whitacre contacts the FBI and deals with two agents, Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and his partner, Bob Herndon (Joel McHale), who guide Whitacre to become an undercover agent for the company for whom he works. Both Bakula and McHale give rewarding performances. The look that McHale gets on his face near the end of the movie is so skeptical; I’d give the guy an Oscar® nomination for just that one scene.
Soderbergh directs a light-hearted look at a complex situation. Like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969), this is more comedy than adventure, although what is going on is serious and actually happened.