MARK WHITACRE (Matt Damon) is a really, really likeable guy: Chipper, earnest, and eager to please, Whitacre's a high-ranking employee at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a massive industrial food conglomerate headquartered in Decatur, Illinois. He's done pretty well for himself, too: An orphan who was adopted by a wealthy patron, he ended up going to a good school, marrying a cute girl, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), and stumbling into a lucrative job at ADM (where, as Whitacre says, "corn goes in one end and profit comes out the other"). He's an affable, excitable guy, the sort of man whose wife calls him "Corky," and as he tools around in his Ferrari, or Porsche, or BMW, or Mercedes, or Land Rover, inevitably thinking ridiculous thoughts to himself, it's impossible to not enjoy being in the guy's company.
As likeable as he is, though, he sure as hell isn't cut out to be a secret agent—though it's not as if an annoying fact like that stops him from becoming one. "What I'm about to tell you," Whitacre says dramatically early in The Informant!, "involves something very large." Spilling his guts to FBI Special Agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula), Whitacre reveals a vast story of corporate skulduggery at ADM, which has been conspiring with its competitors on an international price-fixing racket.
Shepard, happy to bust some white-collar crooks, takes the bait—and soon enough, Whitacre's wearing a wire, awkwardly trying to trick his coworkers into revealing ADM's schemes, and comparing his predicament to something out of a Michael Crichton or John Grisham novel. At one point, he lets it slip that he calls himself "double-oh-fourteen," having convinced himself that he's "twice as smart as 007." He isn't.
Based on a true story, The Informant! is one of director Steven Soderbergh's best films—and considering the dude's other work (Traffic, Che, Ocean's Eleven, The Limey, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich), that's saying a hell of a lot. It's certainly Soderbergh's funniest movie to date: The Informant! tells a story that could've been ominous and preachy, but with Scott Z. Burns' razor-sharp script (which is based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald) and a sly, goofy, insightful tone, Soderbergh makes this thing ridiculously funny and surprisingly involving. (It doesn't hurt that Soderbergh's lined up an abso-fucking-lutely perfect cast: Damon and Bakula offer amazing performances, and they're backed up by Lynskey, The Soup's Joel McHale, Arrested Development's Tony Hale [I love you Buster!], Ann Cusack, Patton Oswalt, and—sure, why not!—the Smothers Brothers.) Sometimes deadpan and sometimes absurd, The Informant! is fantastic from beginning to end, and man, look at that—I'm running of space. Considering I'm not gonna run out of great things to say about The Informant! anytime soon, I'll just sum this up quickly, easily, succinctly: Go.