Informers, The (United States/Germany, 2009)April 21, 2009
People suck. Life sucks. And when you get to the top, you realize that everything is hollow and pointless. That sums up Bret Easton Ellis' philosophy as well as the central themes of the latest downer of a movie based on one of his novels. The Informers is nihilism for nihilism's sake; a bleak and borderline-unwatchable collage of misanthropes, self-absorbed assholes, and pathetic weaklings as they struggle to move forward during the early 1980s in Los Angeles. Director Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) has indicated that the movie was inspired by Short Cuts. If that's the case, then this is an instance of inspiration going rancid. Altman gave us characters and context; The Informers provides a plausible explanation for the eradication of an American city.
The movie provides snapshots from the lives of at least eleven significant characters, some of whom travel in the same circles and interact regularly, others whose paths cross in only superficial ways. The fulcrum is Graham (Jon Foster), a drug dealer who's sleeping with his girlfriend, Christie (Amber Heard), and his best male friend, Martin (Austin Nichols). His dad, Hollywood bigwig William (Billy Bob Thorton) is trying to get back together with Graham's mom, long-suffering and high-strung Laura (Kim Basinger), while continuing his affair with news anchor Cheryl (Winona Ryder). Graham's buddy, Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci), is on a disastrous vacation in Hawaii with his lecherous father, Les (Chris Isaak). There are also storylines about a glam rock musician (Mel Raido) who's so drugged out and oversexed that he can barely function, and an amoral drifter (Mickey Rourke, pre-Wrestler) who kidnaps and sells kids.
With so many characters and such a short running time, there's not much opportunity for development. Then again, it's a good thing the film clocks in at only a little over one and one-half hours because spending more minutes with these individuals would be an unbearable prospect. The problem isn't merely that the men and women populating The Informers are ugly, but they are ugly and shallow. The only reason we care about any of them is to hope they suffer horrible, lingering deaths. We know that, for the most part, that's not going to happen, but hope springs eternal...
This is the fourth Ellis novel to reach the screen, following Less than Zero, American Psycho, and The Rules of Attraction. It is by far the worst of the adaptations, lacking the biting wit of American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction, and the solid performances of Less than Zero. There's little reason for Ellis to complain about the book's treatment - not only did he co-write the screenplay, but he serves as an Executive Producer. And, while a lot of the novel's complexities have been ironed out to cram 225 pages into 100 minutes, whole passages of dialogue have survived the transition intact. For the most part, however, those lines are unmemorable.
If there's a silver lining, it comes from Amber Heard, who spends most of her screen time naked. (The nudity is impressive enough to distract from the lack of skill evident in her performance.) Most of the "name" actors appear to be going through the motions, with Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger phoning it in. Mickey Rourke, in the role he took immediately preceding The Wrestler, is suitably creepy. Jon Foster appears completely lost, perhaps because of the Oedipal circumstance of Basinger playing his mother in this movie after having played his lover a few years ago in The Door in the Floor. This is also the final movie appearance for Brad Renfro, who O.D.'d shortly after filming was completed. In a film filled with drug addicts and self-absorbed hypocrites, Renfro's Jack is the closest anyone gets to being normal or sympathetic. (The Informers is dedicated to him, which could at best be considered a dubious memorial.)
Although The Informers is set in the '80s, Jordan does a poor job of conveying a sense of the era. His idea of how to turn back the clock 25 years is to throw in a couple of '80s pop tunes and include some archived footage of L.A. freeways. The setting is generic Hollywood and events could just as easily be happening today as more than two decades ago. This is problematic because the focal point of Ellis' attack is the corrupt self-centeredness of the '80s and it loses its sting when the context is muddled.
The Informers is the kind of movie that, upon leaving the theater, provokes the urge to take a shower. I suppose it says something about Jordan's skill as a director that he is able to engender such a strong sense of distaste, but I'm sure he had loftier goals. As ensemble dramas go, this one is a complete failure, not just because of the repulsive nature of the characters but because it rambles and says little that's new or interesting. There are no insights about the human condition or intelligent observations about '80s culture (something American Psycho accomplished brilliantly). The Informers is grotesque and vacuous, and it's hard to understand why anyone would want to subject himself or herself to what the filmmakers are selling. Excuse me while I go take that shower.
Informers, The (United States/Germany, 2009)
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Rhys Ifans, Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Isaak, Mel Raido, Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke, Austin Nichols, Amber Heard, Jon Foster, Kim Basinger, Brad Renfro
Screenplay: Bret Easton Ellis & Nicholas Jarecki
Cinematography: Petra Korner
U.S. Distributor: Senator Distribution