Judge Daryl Loomis will never tell your secrets for less than twenty bucks.
Radical activist or FBI informant?
At the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN, people came out in droves to protest the event. Some demonstrations were about legitimate concerns and many were completely frivolous, but their collected numbers brought out comparable forces of police, FBI agents, and investigators from the Department of Homeland Security. And while disturbances and violence were relatively light, a few stories did come out that both bolstered the government's claim that their anti-terror tactics work and brought into question the value and use of these same tactics.
One of these stories involves the RNC Welcoming Committee, a group of young anarchists, activists, and organizers that got targeted as one of the major potential threats. Through the use of FBI informants, authorities were able to make a number of arrests were made. They couldn't make their terrorism charges stick, though, so outside of a couple of minor convictions, they had to drop nearly everything. The value and legality of the use of informants comes up, though, when we start to question how entrapment factors into these arrests.
Informant addresses this issue by looking at the story of one of the informants whose work was able to secure a conviction. Brandon Darby infiltrated the work of David McKay and Bradley Crowder, two Austin activists who came to Minnesota from Texas to shake things up. Darby had been a community organizer himself and, as co-founder of Common Ground Relief, brought supplies and assistance to survivors of Hurricane Katrina. So, with this in his pocket, was able to easily worm his way in with these kids and find out what they were up to. Depending on whom you ask, Darby did more than that.
McKay and Crowder were charged with making Molotov cocktails, with the intention to use them at the convention. There's no question that this is an illegal act, but both perpetrators have, at different times, claimed entrapment based on the idea that Darby led them to the idea of that kind of force and that, without his influence, the idea of arson never would have come up. Darby all but admits that this in the movie. By saying that he couldn't help build them or directly suggest they do so, he could and did use his influence to move them into more extreme territory.
It's a dicey issue, one that comes down to trying to eradicate terrorism versus personal privacy. I'm not sure which side director Jamie Meltzer falls on it, either, which is the most puzzling thing about Informant. While there are a few bits of footage with acquaintances, the greater majority of the film is Darby talking for extended periods. This is sometimes used to let the subject paint themselves into a corner and that could be the case here. Darby is such a smug piece of garbage, though, that it could just as easily be a vanity piece in an attempt to build his profile as a now writer for Andrew Breitbart's team of dishonest writers.
That very murkiness is what makes Informant an entertaining, if terribly flawed documentary. It's not the first time this story has been told. 2011's Better This World describes the same incident, but from the perspective of the "terrorists," which is a patently ridiculous thing to call those kids. That movie came squarely down on the side of the kids and, while I don't know for sure, there's part of me that believes that giving Darby all this time serves more as an answer to that than as a real documentary.
Luckily, as a character, Darby is a completely dislikable jag who clearly gets off on the attention. It's an interesting story made way better by his egomaniacal telling of it, so whether it was in any way investigative or just another way to feed Darby's ego, Informant definitely has its merits.
The documentary has received a perfectly acceptable release from Music Box Films, as well. The 1.78:1 image looks fine. The colors are solid and there's plenty of detail. Any archival footage looks understandably worse than the interviews. The Dolby 5.1 surround might as well be a stereo mix, but the voices sound good enough.
Extras give more context to the film. A 50-minute conversation between Darby and Michael May, who interviewed him years ago and the two became friends. The discussion is partly about the events of the film and partly about politics in general, but it's an interesting listen no matter what they're talking about, even if it further enhances Darby's massive ego. Next, a 20-minute interview with recently deceased provocateur/misinterpreter of facts and events Andrew Breitbart, who took Darby under his deceitful and manipulative wing. Breitbart appeals to the lowest common denominator and, here, doesn't disappoint. The disc continues with some footage of Darby playing gotcha with Occupy Wall Street protesters. Finally, some reprinted news articles about the case close out the disc.
Whether Darby is a hero or a rat is irrelevant. Your individual choice will come down directly to which side of the issue you come down on and, really, Darby isn't an interesting enough figure to warrant having this discussion revolve around him. Informant is, however, an entertaining look at a man who is, at best, an attention hungry little boy willing to side with whoever will pat his back and, at worst, a craven political opportunist who will happily stab somebody in the back for just a bit more power and recognition. Either way, the film will make for an interesting double feature with Better This World to get both sides of the issue. For that, at the very least, it's worth a look.
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