london film festival 2009 – the informant! and Julianne Moore Screen Talk
Halfway through the festival and I’m pleased to report that after a couple of mediocre experiences this weekend’s activities have swung the pendulum back into the world of fun. On Friday night I attended the best BFI screen talk of recent memory with the prodigiously talented Julianne Moore, one of the top half dozen actresses working today and a personnel favourite of mine for her remarkable performances in those early Todd Haynes and Paul Thomas Anderson movies, there was a real sense of anticipation in the NFT1 and the crowd went rock-star wild as she took to the stage. But we’ll come back to that, lets deal with the latest Stephen Soderbergh movie first, the corporate comedy The Informant! which screened on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon in Leicester Square.
You can’t keep a good executive down. After ENRON, after Lehman Brothers and the continuing fury at executive bonuses it was quite a change to see the corporate executive class as brimming with ineffective buffoons rather than coldly calculated capitalist psychopaths, in The Informant! Matt Damon stars as the amiable Mark Whitacre, an up and coming heavyweight at global food derivative company ADM in the early nineties. In a stream of consciousness voiceover which is probably the films finest stroke (unlike The Road where this potentially fatal technique can ostracize the viewer) Mark takes us through his corporate experience, as the film opens advising superiors that he’s in touch with a Japanese whistle-blower who can expose an industrial saboteur in their midst and fix a production issue that’s costing them $7 million a month. Much to Mark’s consternation the company brings in the FBI to investigate the sabotage, Whitacre distracting them with the revelation of a massive conspiracy to price-fix goods in the global marketplace. Two earnest FBI agents (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) enrol Whitacre into service as a double-agent, an informer in a comedic bumbling and disorganized fashion, leaving his exasperated handlers uncertain whether he’s cooperating or not. Mark’s web of deceit begins to disentangle as the film progresses, his numerous subterfuges slowly unraveling as the scale of the real corruption is incrementally revealed.
Soderbergh is one of the masters of the new digital cameras and under his usual pseudonym Peter George he shoots all his current projects with the industry leading Red Camera. I don’t know how he does it but this film doesn’t look digital unlike say the recent work of Michael Mann, the surface sheen and glows from his subdued and effective lighting schemes looks to me like they are printed on the most expensive, luscious film stock on the market. The Informant! has a very jovial, frothy atmosphere which is reinforced with a slightly intrusive score of Marvin Hamlisch that brings to mind the caper movies of the 1960’s, it’s a far more breezy affair than Soderbergh’s impenetrable existential corporate yarn Schizopolis. Damon convinces as the amiable Whitacre, even generating a certain level of sympathy toward the finale despite the depths of his corporate malfeasance, one serious scene toward the end revealing a psychological spike to the characters congenial veneer. The film almost metaphorically seems to grab the audience in a headlock, ruffle their hair and convince them that they’re having a good time, it’s an amiable romp that will evaporate from the memory a couple of hours after the credits dim.
So now to Julianne Moore who was in town to promote her new films Chloe which has been directed by Canadian art house favourite Atom Egoyan and A Single Man by US newcomer Tom Ford. She came across as very down to earth, pretty funny and very, very smart. No Q&A from the audience unfortunately but questioner Briony Hanson handled proceedings with a solid dexterity, covering all the essential bases of Moore’s career including her variation of the big budget projects with the independent arena and her frequent support of first time, seemingly inexperienced directors being a testament to her generosity and desire to take risks. The script is always the only consideration she weighs in deciding to commit to a project, the directors oeuvre or lack thereof not being a contributory factor. Moore expressed a real disappointment that Blindness got such a raw deal from the press and despairing that so many critics overlooked some of the subtle touches in its visual and sound design to replicate the tone and strengths of the source novel.
She explained how it was fun to gravitate between the small independent projects and the big league likes of Hannibal and The Lost World as ‘it’s like only eating tomatoes for the rest of your life. Sometimes you want to try something else’. Most illuminatingly she explained how she didn’t subscribe to the notion that a director sculpts a performance, the actor brings the role to the table, that is their job and with the director they photograph the performance, together. Some of the production tales from Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Hours and Far From Heaven were all explored, overall a very entertaining evening with a great talent. Next up, the Film Festival Super Secret Special free members screening which unfortunately isn’t Where The Wild Things Are but another recent US premiere for Europe, stay tuned….