The Informant!: *** (out of 4)

I still feel a little bit disappointed in myself for not seeing The Informant! when I was recently visiting Illinois. I grew up about an hour down the road from Decatur, where the movie takes place; and while ADM was less of an odd, evil fixture in our lives than for those down the road, it still had an impact. But rather than driving an hour out of my way to see it, I waited until I was back home in California. But the Illinois feel was certainly still there.

The Informant! tells the story of Mark Whitacre, an executive at Archer Daniels Midland, and his role in an FBI investigation into a price-fixing scandal in the mid-1990s. It's hard to argue that the background isn't boring; such white-collar crime rarely fails to inspire yawns in those that hear about it, even when the stakes are as high as they were here. But the movie solves that problem by spending its time focusing on Whitacre himself, from his background to his eccentricities. It's not that the case is so interesting; it's that Whitacre is so weird.

The movie is played for laughs, albeit extremely dark ones. Whitacre (Matt Damon) narrates many scenes with a series of random monologues that almost relate to what's going on, but mostly just share some of his state of mind. While these monologues distract from what's actually happening on screen, this actually improves the movie; this intentional misdirection lets us spot incongruities and not worry about them very much, only to realize later that some of those would have given the story away. I like that kind of thing.

The movie's true humor came in two pieces: the expressions on various people's faces as they try to comprehend what Whitacre was saying to them, and the musical choices during the various high-tension scenes. I certainly guffawed through much of the movie, in that way that makes me wonder if I'm the only one in the room doing so. That's worth something.

My biggest gripe with the movie was that the license plates were off - they were using modern Illinois plates on all of the cars, going back to 1992. Yes, this is nit-picky; but since they were otherwise trying to play up the period-ness of the sets, it was a bit glaring to me to see that detail. Still, that hardly detracted from seeing a car going down the corn-lined roads of my childhood.

I can see why this movie got mixed reviews, but count me on the "amused" side of the line. It's smart, funny, and just a tad random. Recommended.