Directed by: Gregor Jordan (Ned Kelly)
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Amber Heard, Rhys Ifans
Seeing as how The Informers is adapted from a series of stories by Bret Easton Ellis—who also co-wrote the screenplay—you should immediately guess that it’s going to be a cynical, sour, possibly depressing look at humankind in the 1980s. That’s kind of the essence of Ellis. It’s also the essence of Gregor Jordan’s film. And while it couldn’t happen to a more deserving decade, this is a case of a movie that’s just too damned one-note bleak for its own good. I don’t find The Informers to be without interest—unlike most critics—but neither do I find it successful enough to recommend it. There comes a point where social critique starts to resemble snarky nihilism—and that happens far too often in The Informers.
For my money, Roger Avary’s deeply disturbing film of The Rules of Attraction (2002) is the most wholly successful translation of Ellis to the screen. Avary manages to knock some of the pretentious twaddle (come on, there’s a whole chapter in French!) out of Ellis’ novel, while expanding the book’s microcosm of 1980s society as seen at an upscale university into something that touches on more universal themes. Moreover, he dresses it all in wild flights of cinematic inventiveness and seems to feel his characters’ pain, while having bitter fun at their (and our) expense. I don’t think there’s a single one of those elements at the center of The Informers. Maybe that’s because there really is no center to The Informers.
Jordan’s film is comprised of different stories that have been patched together to form some kind of sub-Short Cuts narrative. In fact, Jordan has evoked Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993) in interviews about his film. The problem is that Jordan is no Altman and The Informers is no Short Cuts. The film starts with a scene of Hollywood depravity at a wild, yet strangely decorous, party that ends with someone being run over by a drug-addled reveler. It’s mildly shocking, mostly because no one seems to care too much. It becomes more vaguely unsettling when we realize that there’s probably no very good reason to care about the demise of this character. The film never really changes from this tone—no matter whose story it’s telling—and it’s finally hard to understand why anyone would or should care about any of the people in the film.
Whether the film is dealing with the upper end of the Los Angeles social ladder—movie producers and their families, rock stars, TV personalities—or the lower depths—a hotel doorman, a kidnapper—it makes no significant difference. Everyone is strangely vacant, and even the more impressive actors in the cast can do little with the material they’re given. The idea of the film is that all these beautiful—and some not-so-beautiful—people are engaged in some kind of dance on the edge of a precipice. The problem is that the edge itself is so banal and dismal that falling off looks like the most desirable thing that could happen to them.
Since the movie is set in 1983, a good deal of it deals with the specter of AIDS, which is the area where the film scores some of its better points—or where it would if we cared just a little more about the characters. There’s certainly tragedy in the fate of Amber Heard’s Christie, and there’s a flicker of something like humanity in the reaction of Jon Foster’s Graham and his sense of helplessness in the matter. My suspicion is that we’re supposed to be shattered by the realization that he comes as close as is possible to actually caring about her. The problem is that it’s less shattering than depressing, in a movie made up of nothing but such moments. The fact that the stories are pieced together isn’t what robs the film of a dramatic arc. It’s simply that it’s all a catalog of shallow freakishness from beginning to end. Where the film wants us to be disturbed by the tragic waste of the era, it finally just adds to that waste by virtue of the way it squanders the talent involved. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, drug use, pervasive language and some disturbing images.