Conventional wisdom recognizes that The Informant is a breezy take on the case of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a whistleblower from the early ’90s who ratted out his global agribusiness firm to the federal government as part of a price-fixing investigation, while embezzling millions of dollars and lying through his teeth like a bad hairpiece and tie (both of which he wore everyday to glorious effect). As the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that Whitacre was crazy as a loon, an unbelievably comic figure narrating his own downfall on hundreds of tapes to the FBI.

With The Informant, Steven Soderbergh picks up the true-life caper baton from Steven Spielberg, whose Catch Me If You Can was a low-key charmer from a director seemingly incapable of such minor efforts anymore (his very name implied, directly and boldly, big solemn statements), and bolts to the great beyond on a trail of laugh-induced tears.

Never one to fuss over his appearance, Damon simply settles into the look and feel of his version of Whitacre and never lets us forget that the man is an unhealthy blend of intelligence, foolishness and certifiable mental instability. It is a highly informed performance from an actor working at the very top of his game. The talented Mr. Damon creates a combustible character out of Mark Whitacre who happens to be as crazy as a fox and he makes the walking punch line real. Grade: A