Ever the chameleon, American director Steven Soderbergh follows his epic biopic of Che Guevara and the experimental, adult actress-starring The Girlfriend Experience with a corporate lark: The Informant! starring Matt Damon, his frequent collaborator.
While ostensibly a biopic about Mark Whitacre - a high-ranking executive of Archer Daniels Midland turned whistleblower played by Damon - Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) re-imagine the twisting, somewhat despairing story as a comedy.
Many of the laughs come from Damon's digressive, tangential narration that drives the film, finding hokey humor in the quotidian. In fact, Whitacre is the kind of quirky, unpredictable protagonist one might expect to find in a Coen Brothers movie.
Damon proves game for the role; 30 pounds chubbier and sporting a silly mustache, he brings both foolishness and empathy to a character that proves more complex than appearance suggests as the plot unfolds.
Meanwhile, Soderbergh bathes the film in an ironic yellow hue, referencing Whitacre's opening explanation of the vital role corn plays in his company's success.
An attempt at summarizing the plot's many turns would be futile, but its subject matter of corporate corruption and individual greediness is also the central target of Michael Moore's new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. Provocative, immediate and expectedly facile, Capitalism finds Moore at his best and his worst.
Beginning the film with a montage of bank robberies caught on surveillance cameras, Moore spends the next two hours explaining how the politicians and business leaders of our country have effectively done the same (without explicitly harkening back to the montage, to his credit). It's an honest "cri de coeur" in a glossy package, ultimately the only way to secure widespread distribution.
Moore's tactics have often been criticized for being manipulative and oversimplified, and we get a helping of that here; security guards are harassed, tear-stained close-ups are paired with persuasive musical scores and his central argument about capitalism itself isn't entirely flawless.
What's most frustrating about these attempts at laughter and sympathy are that Capitalism, of all his films, doesn't need it. Moore collects an impressive number of anecdotes and important people to make a terrifyingly staggering and timely capsule of how capitalism has run our nation into an unbelievable debt - the "Dead Peasant" portion alone is worth getting angry over.
Despite Moore's dubious filmmaking techniques, Capitalism is essential viewing for all parties and classes, as it's at the very least a cause for contemplation and, ideally, action.