Steven Soderbergh's career as a filmmaker is a study in dichotomies. I don't mean he alternates between different genres, the way the Coen Brothers might. I mean he makes his different films using entirely different aesthetics, as though for completely separate audiences. Beloved by IFC for his remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, esteemed by the Academy for smart, grown-up movies like Traffic and Erin Brockovich, and revered by critics and festival-goers for audacious works like his four-hour Che biopic, Soderbergh nevertheless remains best-known to typical moviegoers for a series of hiply commercial, crowd-pleasing caper films—Ocean's 11 and its two sequels.
For his latest, The Informant!, Soderbergh's mainstream savvy and arthouse panache collide like never before, into what is arguably the most quintessentially Soderberghian film yet, and inarguably a fine synthesis of his varying styles and aspirations. Coming off the heels of the mammoth Che and the similarly artsy, festival-friendly The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh would be forgiven for taking a breather with something light and uncomplicated, but The Informant!, though engaging and winsome and on a comparatively small scale, is not that movie. It's a comedy that will appeal to cineplex-goers who have no interest in four-hour biopics or remakes of Russian films, yet it utilizes Soderbergh's gifts as an arthouse film buff as effectively as anything he's made.
Nobody else makes movies like this anymore, and for that reason alone it feels initially like a rather strange picture, though actually there's nothing that weird about it; it's simply out of time, almost completely. It's set in the early 1990s, but the washed-out opening titles and the playful music ...1