The Informant Composed by Marvin Hamlisch
New Line Records (2009)
Soundclips below provided by AmazonMP3
first, it does seem like the oddest of pairings, but upon further
listening and thought, Hamlisch's score is an entertainingly,
audibly-gaudy match for (The Informant)”
And All That Jazz
Review by Christopher Coleman
Ever wonder what Jason Bourne would be like in Bizzaro-world? Well, if you have,
then let me introduce you to Mark Whitacre, Matt Damon's latest character
creation and central figure of Steven Soderbergh's THE INFORMANT. Dr. Whitacre
is a pudgy, pasty, Ivy-league-educated, corporate man turned whistleblower; a
man with ever escalating delusions of climbing to the top of Archers Daniel
Midland by bringing the peak of the company down under his feet. Mark Whitacre
appears to be everything Jason Bourne is not - although one might argue that
there is an comically odd parallel in the identity issues both characters face.
This time, instead going on a strict exercise regiment and diet, Damon does the
opposite in making his own physique match his persona. The on-screen result is
just as mesmerizing, but in an inverted way. Regardless, Damon's portrayal of
the character is worthy of Oscar thoughts. Director Steven Soderbergh bases his
film on the book by Kurt Eichenwald, which tells the real-life tale of Whitacre.
This telling goes far beyond the investigative and legal points that newspapers
and television covered back in the Nineties. Eichenwald's book and Soderbergh's
movie dives much deeper into the story-twists and the fractured psyche of the
seemingly cooperative and good-natured Whitacre. This film is all about
deception: corporate deception, government deception, and self-deception. Even
the trailer is a bit deceptive; making THE INFORMANT look singularly like
corporate-comic-caper. Just like Whitacre, there is another side to this film
that isn't apparent in the trailers. THE INFORMANT, while containing a high-rise
full of humorous moments, is also a thought provoking exploration into
price-fixing, FBI operations, and the mind. In addition to the unforeseen
plot-twists and Damon's exceptional performance, one of most intriguing aspects
of this film is composer MARVIN HAMLISCH's original score.
What is immediately intriguing about THE INFORMANT's score is that it reflects
musical sensibilities far older than the film's Nineties setting. Of course, if
you are familiar with previous works of MARVIN HAMLISCH, then this jazz-founded
score will not be such a surprise. For those not so familiar, Hamlisch is one of
only two composers to ever win an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy. In fact, he has
won three Oscars, four Emmy's, four Grammy's. He has also won three Golden
Globes and Pulitzer Prize. Some of his most recognizable works include THE
STING, THE WAY WE WERE, and A CHORUS LINE - all famous works from the Seventies,
which could be considered Hamlisch's golden era. It is that era's music in
which he is allowed to indulge himself once again. Without a doubt, hiring
Hamlisch was a surprising and fiendishly bold move of Soderbergh and the net
result is worth examining beyond the cursory listen.
Mark Whitacre, the man as well as his story, is fittingly represented in
Hamlisch's chosen style - jazz. Like jazz, Whitacre and the film are complex yet
entertaining. Just when you think you know what it is your listening to
(or watching), who the players are, what they are capable of, or where things
are headed, everything changes. This story ends up somewhere completely
different than where we might have initially guessed. If we look at the
main theme heard in "The Informant" (1), we are clued into more than merely the
film's humorous side. We get a glimpse of another side, equally important.
When experiencing the score in the film or on New Line Records' soundtrack, what
immediately grabs our attention is Hamlisch's sumptuously romantic theme; most
often lead on piano or trumpet. What goes unnoticed are the subtler, more somber
notes which begin the piece: low-range piano with dark motif played by bass
oboe. As a principle theme of the score, we find it returning later in "Boxes,"
(7) and finally in "Triplets" (11). This title theme, being only one of
several musical foundations, Hamlisch goes on to utilize various forms of jazz
to define and describe our anti-Bourne figure and his unique predicament.
The next principle idea of Hamlisch's score is found in track 2. The bright and
optimistic side of Whitacre is bolstered with a new theme in "Meet Mark," (2).
He keeps to his jazz routes of yesteryear, employing flutes, high-hat, and
snare; injecting the popular vibe found in Seventies' gameshows. Hamlisch
makes good use of this motif elsewhere as we hear it slyly played on organ in
"Multi-Tasking" (5) and returning to full, comedic form in "After Car" (8).
Displaying his mastery of this particular form of jazz, Hamlisch reflects
Whitacre's strange delusions of grandeur as he shamelessly goes into JOHN BARRY
territory, providing the character with his own "0014" motif [see "Car Chase"
(3), "Multi-tasking" (5)]. In the fragmented mind of Mark Whitacre, situations
which would normally be considered, and handled with, the utmost seriousness
seem to carry no more threat than a game of Monopoly. Whether it was for that
reason or the simple fact that Whitacre executes his insider-duties with the
covert skills of a boulder, Hamlisch's comedic treatment of tracks like "The
Raid" (4) are appropriate; again recalling memories of classic 70s TV gameshows
like The Dating Game or The Newlywed Game. Hamlisch delivers one last
musical-post for THE INFORMANT with the song "Trust Me" (9, 13). Again, the
irony is clear. "Trust" is the last thing that can be done with just about any
party involved in this film: the corporation, the FBI, or Mark Whitacre.
Here, MARVIN HAMLISCH writes another wonderful jazz piece that features an
addicting piano melody; later smoothed out with a fuller jazz ensemble lead by
muted trumpet and sax. In the much livelier, vocal version (13) we get lyrics by
the award-winning team, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The final piece "The Informant
(Solo Piano)" is a lighthearted, Harry-Connick-eque conclusion to the
soundtrack, which is actually another instrumental performance of "Trust Me" and
not main theme introduced in track 1.
THE INFORMANT is certainly a film that will garner attention during award
season. Fans of Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman or even those who
connected with certain elements of Michael Giacchino's work for Pixar's UP, will
find this score something of a treasure. Admittedly, at first, it does seem like
the oddest of pairings, but upon further listening and thought, Hamlisch's score
is an entertainingly, audibly-gaudy match for this film. No doubt some will
scratch their heads at Steven Soderbergh's choice and be off-put by Hamlisch's
score, but due credit has to be given to Soderbergh for making such a bold
choice and to Hamlisch for doing what he has done so well for so many years. The
pairing of this dated-style of music with a story set in the Nineties somehow
works and, if your palette includes a taste for the the various flavors of jazz,
will translate into a moderately entertaining listening experience.