Sony // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // August 25th, 2009
Greed is good. Sex is easy. Youth is forever.
The Informers sports an impressive cast, but the greed of the Eighties has been cinematically mined to death. One hopes this will have something new to offer.
Adapted by the author and Nicholas Jarecki from the novel by Brett Easton Ellis (who also wrote the excellent American Psycho), The Informers (Blu-ray) presents a microcosm of Los Angeles in 1983, detailing the hedonistic, self-destructive tendencies of loosely related characters young and old.
Billy Bob Thornton (The Astronaut Farmer) plays William, a successful movie executive trying to re-establish his broken marriage with Laura (Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential) while continuing to obsess over news broadcaster Cheryl Laine (Winona Ryder, Girl, Interrupted). William's studio is courting massive pop sensation Bryan Metro (Mel Raido, Empire State) for a killer tomato movie, but Bryan's drug addled mind is having trouble taking it all in. Meanwhile, William's son Graham (Jon Foster, Life as a House) is a drug dealer, spending his free time having three-way sex with Christie (Amber Heard, Pineapple Express) and Martin (Austin Nichols, Wimbledon), a music video director. Jack (Brad Renfro, Bully), the desk clerk at Graham's apartment building, finds himself caught up in a disturbing business transaction when an old criminal acquaintance (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler) returns to L.A., while a client of Graham's (Lou Taylor Pucci, Southland Tales) takes a tense trip to Hawaii with his estranged father (Chris Isaac, A Dirty Shame).
Whew, and that's just the setup. Everyone parties like there's no tomorrow, and for some there may not be.
Oh boy, you're thinking, another movie taking on the heady topic of Eighties excess. Haven't seen that before. I sure hope there's ironic use of synth-pop and someone with a Flock of Seagulls haircut. Well, maybe it's not breaking much new ground, but rarely has the decade and its implosion been explored as precisely as in The Informers, a film straddling the line between satire, social commentary, and morality play with aplomb.
The uniquely modulated tone of The Informers is what makes it work so well. It travels to some remarkably dark places, implying the most disturbing elements of these characters self-centered lifestyles without subtlety, yet it never really drew me into the despair. Instead, a shield of disaffected detachment allows for objective observation of the depravity, which is why the movie is entertaining and insightful rather than disgusting and depressing. Director Gregor Jordan (Ned Kelly) has made a picture that feels unlike anything I've ever seen, embracing the music, fashion, and attitude of the time rather than mocking it. Not to say the picture's devoid of fun: Ray-Ban can't be complaining about the Wayfarers that make an appearance in virtually every sequence, and the aforementioned and ill-advised coif does indeed show up early on. There's little played for outright laughs, though.
Everyone in The Informers walks around in a haze, usually drug-induced, keeping their interactions at a strictly superficial level regardless of the circumstance; no one can see beyond their own nose to realize there's a world outside of themselves, much less realize that there could be consequences to their hedonistic proclivities. Responsibility, fidelity, and compassion are sacrificed in the name of having fun, and the characters to forget how to feel. As the narrative progresses, some seem to realize the need for change but they're clueless how to accomplish it, while others -- those most comfortable with their self-centeredness -- just dig a deeper grave. And it's all quite fascinating. By keeping us at arms' length, Jordan has made the audience better able to relate to his characters' worldview.
The Informers is far from shallow, with a healthy amount of subtext to be found for those who look for it. While Los Angeles, and the entertainment industry in particular, has often been depicted as a den of iniquity, The Informers still manages to feel fresh thanks to the breadth of its scope: low-rent criminals and high-paid studio executives are equal opportunity targets. One caveat to this, though, is the limited (read: nonexistent) depiction of anyone who's not white. Diversity is not on the menu.
Music is vital to The Informers, and more of it than I expected was score. Christopher Young (Lucky You) provides melodies that insist on maintaining forward momentum, without being overly pushy. A swatch of hits from the period grace the soundtrack as well, effectively setting the tone without turning into The Wedding Singer. Clearly, a lot of love went into picking these tracks.
Picture quality on this Sony Blu-ray is about average for the high-definition format (which would be exceptional on DVD). Detail is crisp and well-defined without obvious edge enhancement, and the image feels thick with inky blacks and good dynamic range. The colors are pretty muted -- intentionally, I would assume -- which means you won't see the aggressive "pop" of demo discs, but this is a pleasing reproduction of the way the film should look, with ever-so-fine film grain gracing the brightest areas. Audio, all important in a music-heavy picture, does the job well in Dolby TrueHD, with an immersive sound field, an appropriate bass level that doesn't overwhelm, and subtle ambience in most scenes. It's a lively and lifelike mix.
Special features are thin but are at least better than the standard promotional "making-of" that shows up on many discs. The lone featurette is culled mostly from interviews with cast and crew at what seems to be the film's premiere, and is surprisingly insightful given its short 12-minute running time. There's also a chatty commentary with Jordan and select members of the cast.
I appreciated both the intent and the execution of The Informers, and while it's a dark ride, it's one worth taking.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site