Yet it also suggests a thematic sleight of hand that asks us to be aware that the film’s motivations may not be as cut-and-dried as they first appear. This ambiguity of intention is largely (and successfully) transmitted via Damon’s supremely nuanced central performance (possibly a career best), which manages to plumb the depths of narcissism, idiocy and, eventually, deep-seated psychosis, while miraculously managing to keep us on side. The screwy semantics of his insistently upbeat internal monologues constantly interrupt the bloated technical jargon and subtly hint at the denouement to which Whitacre’s foolhardy endeavour is leading.
The director himself continuously chips in from the sidelines, with screwball devices such as oversized title cards written in purple bubble text, a camera that playfully dances in and out of the innumerable sterile business headquarters and hotels and Marvin Hamlisch’s chirpy, big-band soundtrack. Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns have based the film largely on the muckraking thriller by New York Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald, but they are less interested in the particulars of nefarious corporate dealings than in creating a credible psychological portrait of a man driven by… who knows what?