A film review by Craig J. Koban September 15, 2009

 

THE INFORMERS j
 

2009, R, 98 mins.

William: Billy Bob Thornton / Laura: Kim Basinger / Peter: Mickey Rourke / Cheryl: Winona Ryder / Graham: Jon Foster / Christie: Amber Heard / Tim: Lou Taylor Pucci / Jack: Brad Renfro / Les: Chris Isaak

Directed by Gregor Jordan / Written by Bret Easton Ellis and Nicholas Jarecki, from the novel by Ellis

 "If misery loves company, misery has company enough."

Henry David Thoreau

 

I am about to commit the most unpardonable of movie critic sins: I am going to spoil the final scene of THE INFORMERS, mostly out of pity for all of you viewers out there that should be spared of spending 98 minutes of your highly valuable time with this miserable, boring, meandering, and utterly repellent film about utterly repellent people. 

So…s-p-o-i-l-e-r   w-a-r-n-i-n-g. 

At the end of the film we have a scene with the only scintilla of dramatic punch: we see what was once a luscious, sexy, blond hedonistic bombshell named Christine (Amber Heard), who spent much of her time in the film cavorting around and having sex with...well...just about everyone.  She is shown as the dreamlike epitome of the California angel that every 1983 man hungers for.  By the end of the film she has shockingly hit rock bottom; she is lying on a beach, pale as a ghost, covered with lesions, and is barely able to move or to emote herself.  When her drug dealing boyfriend, Graham (Jon Foster) comes to check in on her he then decides that he must promptly take her to the hospital.  She steadfastly refuses, insisting that she is relatively fine and that she must remain on the beach to catch some more rays to get “some color” back into her emaciated complexion. 

This single moment has a real, stirring power.  It is also the only single moment in THE INFORMERS that moved me in one way or another.  To see this unreservedly spoiled, egotistical, narrow minded, naïve, and perpetually stoned bimbo go from goddess to AIDS-afflicted victim is certainly depressing, if more than a bit frustrating.  In some ways, seeing her - with her whole future in front of her - have her life utterly squandered due to a deadly disease (virtually misunderstood at the time) all because of petty and blind-sided lifestyle choices is dreadful and disheartening.  Yet, in the end, this is such an wholly self-absorbed individual that you almost want to whisper at the screen, “She had it coming.” 

The rest of THE INFORMERS cannot live up to the dramatic wallop of its brief final scene.  In some manners, the concluding scene also reinforces the film’s bleak and monumentally nihilistic tone:  I have arguably never seen a film about such aggressively immoral, unhappy, reckless, and pathetic people in my movie-going life.  There is not one persona in this film that is amiable, per se, as most of them are basically superficial, bleak and pitiful a-holes that try to carve out lives for themselves in Los Angeles during the early 1980’s.  There is no hope for any of these misanthropic individuals – whether they take the form of rock stars, wanna-be actors, newswomen, movie executives, child kidnappers, and, yes, blonde bimbos; there is rarely a second where you have even a modest level of vested interest in any of them.  These people are just beyond are understanding and sympathy, but that is not to say that depressing movies are instantly wretched: some of the finest and most memorable films of all-time have concerned morally challenged characters.  Yet, THE INFORMERS does such a limp-wristed and haphazard job at developing them and offers up such insidiously low insights into what makes them all tick that, by the time the end credits role on, you feel jubilant because the whole sordid ordeal is over.  It's just a soul-sucking and miserable film about human misery...and it made me miserable. 

What’s most damning here is that the screenplay is by Bret Easton Ellis, based on his series of seven short stories that was inevitably collected as a whole in 1994.  There are certainly scant elements here of Ellis' trademark scathing wit and menacing observation of damaged human souls that have permeated past films based on his other works (like LESS THAN ZERO, RULES OF ATTRACTION, and, to the best effect, 2000’s AMERICAN PSYCHO, still one of the best satires about yuppie greed and social excess I’ve seen, cast in the guise of a serial killer flick).  THE INFORMERS is easily the most gloomy of the lot in the manner it chronicles a series of interconnected stories of Los Angelinos that are not just ruthless bottom-feeders…they lick the bottom of the barrel until it's dry.  The whole connective tissue of all of these divergent characters is in their deplorable lack of decorum, self-respect, and carelessness: these people have all the time in the world to eat, drink, do all kinds of drugs, and have sex with multiple partners (often at the same time) all while not only being unfaithful to the loved ones around them, but to themselves as well.  As sad as this deplorable portrait is in the film, what’s ultimately even more scandalous is Ellis’ lack of tact and wiliness with the script: THE INFORMERS is just a dull and tedious bore. 

The film is simply too short to give its ten or so prominent characters any tangible development.  Instead, all we get is quick and hastily cobbled together glimpses into them.  Some interconnect in more personal ways than others, but most of them, ultimately, are all hopeless lost.  We have the aforementioned Graham (Foster, who looks like a pouty, poor man’s Patrick Bateman here), who deals drugs and sleeps with Christine (Heard, the only attractive visual in this film) as well as with his best male buddy, Martin (Austin Nichols).  Graham’s dad, a Hollywood-producing kingpin named William (Billy Bob Thornton, who has never been stiffer and more comatose in a role), is trying to rekindle his love with his semi-estranged wife, Laura (Kim Basinger, barely a blip on this film’s radar).  

The problem is that William still lusts for younger and attractive news anchor named Cheryl (in a curiously brief performance by Winona Ryder, hardly in the film longer than a collective two or three minutes).  Graham’s father clearly has issues, but so does his other friend, Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci) who is on a very peculiar and socially awkward vacation in Hawaii with his dad, Les (a slimy Chris Isaac).  Combined with all of these stories within the film are ones involving a glam rocker (Mel Raido) who is so stoned and dunk out of his tree that he can barely perform on stage and the other (and perhaps the most scandalous, but involving) revolves around a troubled young man (Brad Renfro, in his last film role) and his drifter uncle (Mickey Rourke, fairly decent here) as a slimeball that kidnaps kids for large ransoms.  Perhaps the darkest and most ironic footnote to THE INFORMERS is that it involves many characters that are drug addicts and Renfro himself tragically died due to a heroine overdose.  Sad indeed, seeing as Renfro gives the film’s most textured performance as a man deeply uncomfortable within his own skin. 

Actually, Renfro is not the only bright performance spot in the film: Kim Basinger, despite slumming around in a deeply marginalized and underwritten role, has a truly fine moment of traumatized pain and resentment against her adulterous husband later on (it’s just demoralizing to see Thornton fail to inject any life into his role; he looks positively bored out of his mind).  Rourke is effortlessly creepy here as well as a monstrous human trafficker.  Yet, the rest of the performances are frighteningly bland and wooden.  Jon Foster in particular arguably has the largest role in the film, but the actor never carves out a memorable niche for his role.  And as for Amber Heard, perhaps the best choice she makes is that she does not have much dialogue and that she appears naked throughout three-quarters of her scenes.  She is rarely a bad sight in the film, even though her character is sour and unpleasant.

If the acting was not stillborn enough, then perhaps what’s worse here is how horribly the typically assured Ellis is at connecting all of these characters and stories together to make a cohesive whole.  None of the stories feels remotely connected at all, and considering that the film was going for the same interconnectivity vibe of a BABEL and CRASH it grows apparent very quickly that it is not remotely in the same auspicious league.  At a little over 90 minutes, there’s just no way that Ellis could shape these tragically flawed people into characters that sustain even our minimal interest.  He also excised an apparent vampire character (no fooling) from his source material as well, which seems foolhardy especially if one understands the resurgence in popularity that bloodsuckers in general are seeing in movies and TV.  Let’s put it this way: the film could not have been any worse with the inclusion of a vampire character. 

There are two other abysmal things about THE INFORMERS:  Firstly, the period detail here (to take a catchphrase from the decade) is like sooooo totally lacking.  Yes, we have the obligatory haircuts, clothes, the odd pop tunes blaring on the soundtrack, and so forth, but there is rarely a moment where the film feels of its time; it just comes off as artificial as its characters.  Secondly, what in the hell is THE INFORMERS trying to say and what tone is it really aiming for?  I have no doubt that Ellis was trying for satire (much as he did to rousing success in AMERICAN PSYCHO), but his attempts here lack any sort of incisive bite.  The “heart” of the film (if I could day that) would be to paint a desolate portrait of the barren, disheartened, and redemptive-free landscape of these Californians at a time typified by greed, lust, and all forms of excess.  However, since the film is so bankrupt in terms of capturing the look of the times, not to mention having virtually nothing of real value to say about these characters and the worlds they inhabit, most of THE INFORMERS comes off as some sort of perverse and wrongheaded farce and an exaggerated prerogative of the decade.  If the film embraced its satiric leanings more fully, then it certainly would have provided for more scathing commentary at the social hypocrisies of its time.  No dice, seeing as it just flounders in human unpleasantness. 

At least the film’s final scene had evidence of highlighting the deathly consequences of one of the character’s unwholesome life choices.  Beyond that, THE INFORMERS is superficially about shared doom and nothing more, which is what makes it the ultimate cure for insomnia.  That, and its cheap and plodding soap opera-esque storyline about promiscuous Tinseltown  sex, drugs, rock 'n roll…and then more of the same…has nothing genuine to contribute to viewers that has not been commented on by so many previous better films.  It’s just a horrible film about horrible people that made me feel horrible inside and its ending gave me the only satisfied relief.

  H O M E