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19 October 2009

Ocean's Double-Oh-Fourteen

Oh! what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive
--Sir Walter Scott

OK, I admit it; I'm still a teenage fangirl at heart. Tonight was take two of LoFiFest for me and after Saturday's decidedly unglamorous afternoon, I didn't have huge expectations for tonight's showing of The Informant! I did, however, have some expectations because the "programme corrections" section of the LoFiFest website announced the cancellation of another screening of the film due to director Steven Soderbergh's schedule. Why would they cancel the screening if he weren't going to be there in the first place?



When I arrived at Leicester Square at 8.10, there was a red carpet and a huge crowd outside the cinema so I thought maybe Matt Damon would be coming too. Again, it was way exciting to proffer my ticket and to walk past the barriers and across the red carpet, past a small gang of paparazzi. I'm glad I wore a nice dress tonight although I almost regreted not having leaped, given my past experience of leaping on the tapis rouge, but even I'm not quite that narcissistic. A bunch of civilians and some journalists and photographers were hovering in the lobby so I did too in the hope of snapping Soderbergh or Damon but we were eventually ushered into the screen.

I didn't have a great seat (sixth row but right on the far right hand side) but luckily, it was an expensive Leicester Square cinema where the tickets are expensive so all of the seats were reasonably good. Soderbergh and the writer, Scott Burns, then came on stage and announced they would be taking audience questions at the end. Hooray! No Matt Damon, but I always preferred Ben to Matt...

At this point, I was too excited to settle down and enjoy the film but it wasn't a hard film to like. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a biochemist turned exec at a Big Corn company, who, after realising that the FBI's investigations into his company might implicate him, turns informant. Only, as a narrator he is utterly and delightfully unreliable--he can't keep his story straight in the same sentence let alone in the same day.

Yet, he's also very chatty and personable and so when you discover that what he says isn't always true, you want to believe that maybe he is confabulating rather than lying. That he wants to be a good guy. That he thinks what he is doing is right. Actually, he has a bigger problem with the truth than just not being able to tell it: he also has a habit of telling it at exactly the wrong time, such as during periods when he has sworn to talk to no one about the case, only for it to emerge that he talked to nobody except his secretary, his friend at work and a handful of major journalists. The story is interspersed with Whitacre's narration, which is littered with anecdotes and stories about his past, as well as random facts, although you have to wonder whether even the facts are true.

He's not a typical loser character either, even though on the surface he comes across that way. He's an extremely well-paid employee of a big company--and, he often reminds us, he was once a biochemist. He has a very high opinion of himself but it doesn't come across as arrogance so much as naivete and total lack of self-knowledge. He constantly recites these factoids and thinks he is clever because he can do that and yet the decisions he makes during the course of the film are at best weird and at worse self-destructive and just plain bonkers. The soundtrack is often very Bond/Mission Impossible-esque and Whitacre clearly sees himself as a super-hero type (only much better looking than Bond and Ethan Hunt) and at one point, he proudly tells the FBI agents that they should call him 0014 because he was twice as smart as 007.

I was in hysterics throughout although I can't remember any good lines off hand. In any case, part of its success was down to Damon's great comic performance. His timing was perfect and despite all of the bad things his character does, he still comes across as sympathetic (in the final sequence, set seven years after the main action, he looks scarily like Philip Seymour Hoffman).



Yet, as Soderbergh reminded us at the beginning, the film really is based on a true story (he was asked at the end how famous Whitacre's story was in the US, given that no one seems to have heard of him over here, and Soderbergh said he was right up there with Billy the Kid). Apparently, the real Whitacre quite liked the film and he and his wife attended the New York premiere; he also thought Damon did a great job of playing him.

Some of the other audience questions included topics like the warm and fuzzy effect shooting in the Mid West had on the film and how Soderbergh lined up his projects (it was a relief to go back to the comedy of The Informant! after Che--anything would have been after Che, he said). I've been to several director Q&As but somehow all my ideas for questions disappear as soon as I have the chance to ask one so today when I had a question, I decided I would ask it, no matter how boring it was. I asked about the chronology of the film--given that the use of an achronological plot (a favourite plot device of mine; right up there with unreliable narrators, in fact) is becoming increasingly common these days and that it's getting harder to find films that don't have at least one flash-back or other unconventional chronology, did they (Soderbergh and Burns) ever consider using flashbacks to tell the story or would that have complicated things too much bearing in mind the unreliable narrator. It seemed that the latter was true--they didn't consider using flashbacks because they felt that each time a little plot twist was revealed, it was like the movie--and the audience's understanding and perceptions--started over. They also said that flashbacks would give Whitacre's character a sort of omniscience that they didn't think was right--they preferred for the air of innocence and naivete to remain.

But the main thing was that I asked a question and Soderbergh and Burns answered it. Go me... I just need to think of one to ask Clive Owen on Thursday. He will definitely be there because I've paid £15 to see him being interviewed, followed by an audience Q&A, so I damn well hope he'll be there. Now that I've learned a little of how the red carpet works, I've got to strategise as to how I might be able to snap him on the red carpet (if there is a red carpet on Thursday, or on Wednesday, when I'm seeing the gala of his film, The Boys are Back). Incidentally, there are three other screenings of The Boys Are Back but I'm absolutely not going to go to Leicester Square and hang outside the cinema by the red carpet in the hope of seeing him (and not just because I'll be at work).. As for the question to pose, maybe I should ask him in which year he was really born...


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