In The Informant, Matt Damon stars as the Executive Mark Whitacre, the first person involved in a price-fixing cartel to voluntarily give information to the FBI - though he was also an oddball and a liar.
In The Informant, Matt Damon stars as the Executive Mark Whitacre, the first person involved in a price-fixing cartel to voluntarily give information to the FBI - though he was also an oddball and a lShow more

Well scripted



There is a strong argument to be made that Matt Damon has achieved more kudos than any film star working today. Directors such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh clamour to work with him. Audiences, who were unsure what to make of him when he burst on the scene in 1997 after writing and starring in Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, have become loyal to him, especially when he packs his Jason Bourne passport. Critics have been equally won over by his turns in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Good Shepherd and Syriana. In fact, hardly anyone has a bad word to say about him.

A lot of the 39-year-old's charm comes from the fact that he doesn't take himself too seriously. He seems approachable in a way that Brad Pitt isn't, and has not made the mistake of letting his private life be dragged into the public eye (as his best friend Ben Affleck has). He seems to make films based on the quality of the script rather than the size of the pay packet. The Boston-born actor's new film, The Informant! (directed by Soderbergh), screens tomorrow at the Middle East International Film Festival. In it, he plays one of those absurd characters who prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Mark Whitacre was a high-ranking executive who, in 1992, exposed the fact that his company met with competitors to fix the price of the food additive lysine. He was the first person involved in a price-fixing cartel to voluntarily give information to the FBI. The trouble was that Whitacre, although telling the truth about the scam, was an oddball and compulsive liar. He's a slippery character (much like Frank Abagnale Jr, who Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can).

Damon's popularity almost prevented The Informant! from being made. "It almost started and stopped twice," he says. "Once, The Good Shepherd kind of came out of nowhere, because Leo [DiCaprio] was going to do it and dropped out. So at the last second Robert De Niro called me and asked me if I could be in the film. I was like: "I can't do it. I'm supposed to be doing The Departed and then I'm doing The Informant!' He was like: 'I'll talk to Marty [Scorsese] if you talk to Steven.' Steven said: 'I'd never stop any of my friends from doing a great movie, so please go and do it.'

"So The Informant! got delayed for a couple of years, because Soderbergh then decided to do the two Che movies." Damon, modest as always, neglects to add that he appeared in the second film about the Argentine guerrilla fighter. When he finally came to play Whitacre, one of the first things Damon needed to wrap his head around was what motivates someone that odd and delusional. After all, he believed that he would get a promotion for blowing the lead on the malpractice and driving the company's balance sheet skywards. Yet despite a book by Kurt Eichenwald, upon which the movie is based, Whitacre motivation is still hard to ascertain.

"I think it's complicated," Damon says. "Some people felt that it was about greed. The judge certainly felt it was about greed, but some of those guys who worked on the case - spent years of their lives working on the case - were so frustrated by him and hurt by what he did, still kind of feel like he has a good heart. It was interesting to me because nobody really knows why he did exactly what he did."

Whitacre was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in prison. When he was on trial, he refused a plea bargain to spend three years in jail, and was sentenced to nine years. He has served his time, but Damon did not feel that it would be right to meet the man before he played him. "Once Steven decided to do it as a comedy, it became something different. It didn't have to be a rigorous character study of him."

Soderbergh also persuaded Damon to bulk up for the role. "He wanted me to put the weight on because he wanted the character to have no hard edges," Damon says. "So you couldn't define where he began and ended in the same way that you couldn't tell if he was telling the truth. "The wig is well done, too. In real life, these guys had bets on whether he was wearing a hairpiece or not, and they couldn't figure it out until finally they saw him in court with his wig removed. Some of the guys were like: 'I knew it.' Scott Burns, who wrote the script, even wrote in a stage direction on the script: 'Even his hair was a lie.'

"All those things really helped. I had these plumpers in my cheeks. If there is any jaw line - and there really wasn't by the end - the plumpers just kind of take that away.' Damon was happy to have an excuse to indulge: "In our line of work you don't normally get to eat what you want. Lucy [his wife Luciana Barroso] would walk in and I'd be there with a pizza and a drink. She'd look at me, and I'd go: 'Hey, I'm working.'"

After the film was made, Damon heard from Whitacre, who attended a special screening. "He said he liked it," Damon says. "I think he was nervous about it. This is something that he's been through. He spent nine years in jail and has been diagnosed as bipolar. He wrote a note that said: 'I sure did act crazy then.'" There is a good chance that Damon will be in the frame for next year's Academy Awards - not for his turn in The Informant!, but for his supporting role in Invictus, his forthcoming collaboration with Clint Eastwood. The funny thing about this prediction is that it's not based on anyone seeing the film. On paper, though, the combination of director, star and story has awards written all over it: Dirty Harry directing a Nelson Mandela biopic starring Morgan Freeman is sure to garner interest.

Damon is looking forward to seeing the film himself. "It was a great script and a great experience, but I haven't seen it," he says. "I saw Clint last week and he says he's very happy. I play the captain of the South African rugby team, Francois Pienaar. It's a Mandela movie with all these terrific supporting parts and I'm one of them. It starts off on the first day of his presidency and is about the transition that culminates in South Africa winning the world cup. It's a Mandela film but it's a sports movie as well, and it's very inspiring."

As part of his preparation for the role, Damon learnt to appreciate rugby: "I definitely have an admiration for people who play the game. I didn't realise how rough it was" The roughness meant that he couldn't enjoy all aspects of the game. "There was no way I could go into the rucks and mauls. You can't guarantee that you're not going to get a broken nose and if I broke my nose, work would be shut down for two months."

I know that Damon is a sports fan because, in April 2008, I bumped into him at a match at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. He was in London shooting the Iraq war movie Green Zone, and attended the game with his co-star, Greg Kinnear, and the film's director, Paul Greengrass. (When Damon spotted the director Spike Lee they got into friendly banter about the relative merits of their hometown teams, the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks.)

What happens in Green Zone is being closely guarded and even now all Damon will say is: "It's coming out in March. It's great. I've seen it, although they're still finishing some of the effects, but we got a $100 million (Dh367m) Iraq war movie. Yeah! I do have high hopes for it. I know that Iraq war movies have not been particularly successful so far, but let's see. It's about a guy who is looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction and it's all based on fact."

Greengrass also directed Damon in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and conversation inevitably leads to the rumours that a fourth Jason Bourne movie is in the works. Damon is vague: "Maybe, if we can figure out a good story"' He then mischievously adds: "If you have a good fourth, call Universal. They'll give you a load of money." The pressure to do the film is immense, especially from the studio. "You know the studio knows that even if we made a horrible movie, it would make money and there is a huge amount of pressure. It's not expressed as someone hammering on your door, but it's something that you're aware of. They would love to make another Bourne movie and I understand why. It's so hard to have a sure thing in Hollywood and this is as close as you get. From an executive standpoint I get it, it's just that it's our job from a creative standpoint to make sure that we create something that's of a standard."

It's an admirable artistic stance and one that Damon as star is free to make. Getting the story right presents some huge barriers. "This one is really tricky because you can't have the guy say 'I can't remember' anymore because he's lost and gained his memory three times," Damon says. "With James Bond, who goes on individual missions, you can write movies forever. You start at the beginning and then he's on a new mission. Bourne isn't built that way, unfortunately. The studio is like: 'Why don't you build the films that way?' and it's like: 'What is he, going to go back and work for the government now?'

"It's just tricky to work out a way organically to create a fourth story. We want to do it."

Zodi & Tehu: Princes Of The Desert

Director: Eric Barbier

Starring: Youssef Hajdi, Nadia Benzakour, Yasser Drief

Rating: 4/5

'HIJRAH: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE PROPHET'

Edited by: Idries Trevathan
Pages: 240
Publisher: Hirmer Publishers
Available: Now

Maestro

Director: Bradley Cooper

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Maya Hawke

Rating: 3/5

How to vote in the UAE

1) Download your ballot https://www.fvap.gov/

2) Take it to the US Embassy

3) Deadline is October 15

4) The embassy will ensure all ballots reach the US in time for the November 3 poll

SPECS

Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 750hp at 7,500rpm
Torque: 800Nm at 5,500rpm
Transmission: 7 Speed dual-clutch auto
Top speed: 332kph
Fuel consumption: 12.2L/100km
On sale: Year end
Price: From Dh1,430,000 (coupe); From Dh1,566,000 (Spider)

The specs

Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 620hp from 5,750-7,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm from 3,000-5,750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh1.05 million ($286,000)

SPECS

Engine: 4-litre V8 twin-turbo
Power: 630hp
Torque: 850Nm
Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic automatic
Price: From Dh599,000
On sale: Now

Representing UAE overseas

If Catherine Richards debuts for Wales in the Six Nations, she will be the latest to have made it from the UAE to the top tier of the international game in the oval ball codes.

Seren Gough-Walters (Wales rugby league)
Born in Dubai, raised in Sharjah, and once an immigration officer at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi, she debuted for Wales in rugby league in 2021.

Sophie Shams (England sevens)
With an Emirati father and English mother, Shams excelled at rugby at school in Dubai, and went on to represent England on the sevens circuit.

Fiona Reidy (Ireland)
Made her Test rugby bow for Ireland against England in 2015, having played for four years in the capital with Abu Dhabi Harlequins previously.

Another way to earn air miles

In addition to the Emirates and Etihad programmes, there is the Air Miles Middle East card, which offers members the ability to choose any airline, has no black-out dates and no restrictions on seat availability. Air Miles is linked up to HSBC credit cards and can also be earned through retail partners such as Spinneys, Sharaf DG and The Toy Store.

An Emirates Dubai-London round-trip ticket costs 180,000 miles on the Air Miles website. But customers earn these ‘miles’ at a much faster rate than airline miles. Adidas offers two air miles per Dh1 spent. Air Miles has partnerships with websites as well, so booking.com and agoda.com offer three miles per Dh1 spent.

“If you use your HSBC credit card when shopping at our partners, you are able to earn Air Miles twice which will mean you can get that flight reward faster and for less spend,” says Paul Lacey, the managing director for Europe, Middle East and India for Aimia, which owns and operates Air Miles Middle East.

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

Profile Periscope Media

Founder: Smeetha Ghosh, one co-founder (anonymous)

Launch year: 2020

Employees: four – plans to add another 10 by July 2021

Financing stage: $250,000 bootstrap funding, approaching VC firms this year

Investors: Co-founders

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

FA Cup semi-final draw

Coventry City v Manchester United 

Manchester City v Chelsea

- Games to be played at Wembley Stadium on weekend of April 20/21. 

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5


The UAE Today

The latest news and analysis from the Emirates

      By signing up, I agree to The National's privacy policy
      The UAE Today