Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Informant!

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Ken_McAlinden, Feb 23, 2010.

  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    The Informant!

    Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

    Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Rick Overton, Tom Papa, Tom Wilson, Clancy Brown, Tony Hale


    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Year: 2009

    Rated: R

    Film Length: 116 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

    Release Date: February 23, 2010

    The Film ****

    The Informant! is a cinematic adaptation of the true events surrounding Mark Whitacre (Damon), a high-ranking Archer-Daniels-Midland executive who blew the whistle on a price fixing scandal in the early 1990s. The film follows Whitacre through his first contacts with the FBI related to an instance of suspected corporate sabotage, continues on through his unsolicited confession about the price-fixing to Agent Brian Shepard (Bakula) done with his wife Ginger's (Lynskey) encouragement, details the awkward machinations that found Whitacre wearing a wire and staging international executive meetings in front of hidden cameras for the FBI, and culminates in the improbably complex and comic prosecution that resulted in the conviction of several ADM executives as well as the uncovering of a hornet's nest of inappropriate activity about which Whitacre was being less than forthcoming to his constantly frustrated lawyers and FBI handlers.

    While corporate whistle-blowing related to price-fixing in agri-business sounds like an unlikely topic for any Hollywood film, let alone a comedy, the true story of Mark Whitacre as documented in Kurt Eichenwald's book from which this screenplay was adapted has enough stranger than fiction twists and turns that it plays almost like a parody of a John Grisham novel. The screenplay cleverly arranges the meticulously researched facts from the source book into a series of invisible set-ups and surprising pay-offs, hanging an intriguing character study on the basic skeleton of an "escalating lie" farce with an unreliable narrator.

    The cast is uniformly excellent, with a surprising number of stage comedians in key supporting roles. Matt Damon shows an amazing level of commitment to the lead role, both physically and mentally. He gained a substantial amount of weight for the role, and embraced perhaps the most unglamorous hair, make-up, and wardrobe he is likely to experience in a leading role for the rest of his career. More importantly, he manages to sustain the film by embodying his contradictory character while somehow maintaining just the right amount of progressively diminishing audience sympathy as the layers of his delusions, incompetence, and deceitfulness are peeled back. Scott Bakula plays FBI agent Brian Shepard with an interesting mixture of kindness and professionalism that ultimately makes him empathetic enough to become a surrogate for the viewer as they try to puzzle-out Whitacre's seemingly inexplicable behavior.

    The wardrobe and production design are decidedly period, which made me feel old.  I had a hard time getting over the fact that a film set in circa-1991 midwestern corporate America would be considered "period", but as someone who began his professional career in the spring of 1990, I have to admit that the alien-looking haircuts, ties, and office equipment used in the film are spot-on accurate.

    My favorite technical aspect of the production is the score by Marvin Hamlisch. It is playful and occasionally bipolar in its combination of modern and retro in a way that seems to underline both the psyche of Mark Whitacre and the offbeat comic tone of the story. This was Hamlisch's first original film score in over a decade, and it is a welcome return.

    The Video ****

    The 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer approximates the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. The stylized cinematography from Soderbergh (who operates his own camera) uses a lot of backlighting and available light to create a purposely diffuse look. There is not a hint of film grain to be seen as is typical for films shot digitally. Soderbergh has a history of applying color filters to his cinematography to achieve distinctive looks for specific places, and the Informant! is no exception. The palette is dominated by oranges and yellows no doubt intended to evoke the Illinois corn fields that surround the Archer-Daniels-Midland offices.

    The Audio ***½

    The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track uses surrounds and LFE sparingly if at all. Despite the lack of dimensionality, the theatrical mix is very detailed and precise in terms of levels and sound editing, and this is reproduced faithfully by the lossless audio track. Alternate language dubs are available via 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

    The Extras ***

    Commentary from Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns is an excellent track in which both participants sit together for the duration of the film. It is very conversational in structure with both participants asking each other questions resulting in interesting and informative responses throughout. Soderbergh has done previous commentaries with screenwriters where things occasionally get a bit prickly, but that never happens here, possibly because Burns was an active participant throughout the film's production, even being present on set during much of it at Soderbergh's request. In any case, there are almost no lulls in the track or lapses into narration, and it is chock-o-block full of interesting facts about the film's conception, production, and factual basis as well as interesting tangents such as speculation about how events might have played out differently today than they did in the early 1990s.

    Deleted Scenes (6:25 w/"Play All") is a collection of four scenes trimmed from the film.  They are presented in 1.85:1 VC1 1080p video with DD 2.0 sound, but may actually be up-converted from SD based on how they appear. All four are good scenes that were cut for running time considerations. More context on three of them is provided in the audio commentary of the film where Soderbergh mentions where they would have been used and why the were cut.
    • You Don't Really Need to Narrate the Tapes is a very funny scene between Damon as Whitacre and Scott Bakula and Joel McHale as his FBI handlers. The line that gives the scene its name was possibly the funniest in the film's trailer, but was deleted from the final cut.
    • Leaf Blower at Night is a brief interlude where Ginger Whitacre is woken up at night by the sound of her husband operating a leaf blower outside that illustrates the stress he was feeling related to the legal case.
    • Mark Makes Some Odd Requests of the FBI is another scene between Whitacre and his handlers where his odd requests lead to a realization by the agent played by Joel McHale that Whitacre is actually recording his conversation with them.
    • Mark Escorted out of ADM Offices is a scene where Whitacre tries to return to work the day after the multiple arrests of ADM executives for price fixing and is told that his services will no longer be required.

    Skippable Promos appear when the disc is first inserted into a player. They are only skippable by chaptering forward since menu functions are locked out. They are presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
    • Warner Blu-Ray Promo(2:01)
    • Warner Digital Copy Promo (:47)

    SD DVD & Digital Copy - As is the case with all recent Warner BDs of theatrical new release titles, a separate disc is included with an SD DVD of the film and a digital copy. The DVD presentation is a bare bones presentation with the film in 16:9 enhanced widescreen video, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 sound, and available English SDH, French, or Spanish subtitles. It has no extras.

    The digital copy is on-disc, and is compatible with either iTunes or Windows Media formats. It is unlocked through the use of a one-time password provided on a paper insert to the disc case.

    Packaging

    The disc is enclosed in a standard blu-ray case with an extra hub on the inner left side allowing it to accommodate the DVD/digital copy disc as well as the BD of the film. Inserts consist of the standard "disc manufactured to highest quality standards/make sure your firmware is up to date/etc." disclaimer sheet and a sheet with the code to unlock the iTunes or Windows digital copy. The hard case is in-turn placed in a cardboard slipcover that reproduces the same artwork with some additional text touting the bonus DVD & digital copy.

    Menus are straightforward, but I had some player compatibility issues with the disc. My Panasonic DMP-BD60 played everything fine, but the resume function never worked. My wife's Sony Vaio laptop played everything fine, and also recognized what appears to be a Java-based resume functionality that would ask you if you wanted to continue where you left off or start over with a graphic that was consistent with the menu artwork. Most distressingly, my Panasonic DMP-BD10 was incapable of playing the movie at all, despite being updated to the latest V2.5 firmware. The disc simply stopped after the two promos played, never loading the opening menu.

    Summary ****

    The Informant! adapts the stranger than fiction story of early 1990s corporate whistle blower Mark Whitacre into an entertainingly off beat farce and character study. It is presented on blu-ray disc with a solid video presentation that accurately conveys the film's highly stylized digital cinematography and a lossless Dolby TrueHD audio track that does justice to the dimensionally flat but otherwise highly detailed theatrical mix, particularly the playful Marvin Hamlisch score. Extras include an excellent conversational audio commentary between director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and a collection of four interesting deleted scenes. I encountered player-disc compatibility issues that actually prevented the movie from being able to play on a first-generation Panasonic Blu-ray player and showed inconsistent function of a software-based resume function on two other players. Warner has also included a bonus DVD disc that contains the film in both a bare-bones standard definition format as well as an iTunes or Windows Media compatible digital copy.

    Regards,
     
  2. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    Cees Alons
    Sorry to be late to the party, but we didn't see this Blu-ray (or the movie) before tonight.

    Remarkable film and a remarkable story.
    In fact, I know a person much like Whitacre: very intelligent, but disturbed. The mental deviation is called Pseudologia Fantastica. The liar basically starts believing his/her own lies, because they describe a world and situation that could be true.

    The film is great, one or two cameos and an exceptional performance by Matt Damon.

    Thanks for your great review. I read it before I decided to order the BD.

    Cees
     

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