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Sundance Review: ‘The Informers’ Tries and Fails Hard

Every year the Sundance film festival delivers at least one film that I absolutely loathe. Last year it was Downloading Nancy. This year it is The Informers, a self-indulgent, lifeless glamrock drugfest from the mind of Bret Easton Ellis.
By  · Published on January 24th, 2009

I’ve seen a few movies in my day, been around the block a few times, etc. I feel as if I have a relatively solid grasp on what makes a good film good and a bad film, well, bad. I understand a thing or two about story structure. I know how to spot an actor that is just phoning it in versus one that is really invested in their character. And most of all, I understand how adaptations from popular works of literature can go either incredibly well or horribly wrong. This is just a knowledge set that I’ve picked up over years of watching and studying film — it is what makes me so effortlessly mediocre at this job. So when I tell you that The Informers, the latest adaptation from the work of author Bret Easton Ellis, is one of the most self-indulgent, stylishly overcompensating and poorly executed films I’ve seen in years, you should be able to believe me. Put into an even simpler context, The Informers is undoubtedly on its way to being one of the worst movies of 2009. It was, without question, an abysmal experience.

It tells the story of a group of rich kids in 1983 Los Angeles, a group of bad people doing bad things. For the most part it follows the story of Graham (Jon Foster), a twenty something son of a big Hollywood producer (Billy Bob Thornton) whose days are spent having casual, multi-partner sexual encounters with his girlfriend (Amber Heard) and his music video directing, drug dealing best friend Martin (Austin Nichols). Watching his parents struggle with their on again, off again relationship and his friends struggle with their drug and sex problems, Graham finally begins to see the consequences of living the high life in Los Angeles. But Graham isn’t the only one who is seeing awful things around him. There is also a nosy doorman who witnesses his slimy ex-con Uncle (Mickey Rourke) do something unspeakable, a drug-obsessed rock star named Brian Metro (Mel Raido) whose habits have cost him everything he thinks he loved, and one more rich kid (Lou Taylor Pucci) who heads to Hawaii in a doomed attempt to reconnect with his sleazeball father (Chris Isaak).

It may seem like a lot to take in, but trust me when I tell you that it isn’t. The biggest problem with the film is that it works so hard to intertwine these unrelated and jumbled subplots, but fails to tie up more than one of them. It takes what might have been engaging stories in the book — which was a series of short stories — and failing to tie them together to make a coherent narrative. They even going as far as to hint at the vampire story briefly in the third act, but never make it more than just a whisper. This just causes confusion and frustration for the audience. Not to mention the lack of engagement we feel as we watched these drugged-up, over-sexed characters live out their lives in ways that should shock us, but don’t. Also, we are never really given the chance to connect with these characters. To call them unlikable would be a monstrous understatement. They are so despicable that it puts the audience into a state of apathy, and never once to we find a redemptive quality in one of the film’s central characters.

It poses the question: what is this film trying to say to us? That if you lived big in L.A. in the early 80s that you were able to walk around and do awful things and almost never face consequences? Is it trying to shock us? That would seem logical, as we are talking about the work of Bret Easton Ellis here. But while he was able to shock us with his previous work, including American Psycho, but with Informers he appears to either have lost a step or to have given away the story’s grit in the process of adaptation. And no amount of flashy, music video-esque cinematography or pounding 80s pop music is going to cover up the smell emitted from this story’s dead corpse. Together, Easton Ellis and director Gregor Jordan successfully murdered an opportunity to put an incredibly talented cast to work on something potentially special. For all its promise, The Informers has solidified itself as the first — and likely biggest — disappointment of 2009.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)