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December 2009

The Informers

cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, and Chris Isaak

director: Gregor Jordan

94 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Ian Sales

The Informers

It's not all a barrel of laughs being rich in the one city in the world where the rich are privileged more so than anywhere else. Despite all that money, those huge houses, the many cars, they're as miserable as everyone else - no, more miserable. Wealth, after all, brings its own problems. The biggest of which, of course, is: why should the rest of us care? Especially now... The Informers may be set in 1983, and it may be based on a novel from 1994 - by Bret Easton Ellis, who also co-adapted his book for this film - but this is 2009, post-credit-crunch, in a world in which bankers crash the economy and then pocket vast bonuses...

So, minus one hundred for timing... Ellis' The Informers was good, a bleak portrayal of various drug-fuelled descents into madness and despair in Los Angeles. The novel's cast included a film producer, his wife, their college-age children, their friends, a rock star, and several others connected to them. The book is written entirely in first person, from the viewpoints of several of these. It shows a society which is morally bankrupt, one which bears no resemblance to the shiny dream peddled by the Hollywood film industry. Except, that is, for the access to riches...

The film is not a faithful adaptation, but it is faithful to the atmosphere of the book. The novel, for example, opens a year after Jamie died in a car accident while driving to Palm Springs. The movie opens as Bruce is hit and killed by a car while leaving a party. And from that point, the differences begin to accumulate. In the book, Bryan Metro (Mel Raido) is on tour in Tokyo; in the film, he is in Los Angeles. While much of the book's chronology has been compressed, much also remains the same. Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci) goes on holiday to Hawaii with his drunkard father (Chris Isaak). Much of their dialogue is lifted straight from the novel. Film producer William Sloan (Billy Bob Thornton) is having an affair with anchorwoman Cheryl Moore (Winona Ryder), although she is Cheryl Laine in the book. The sense of hopelessness, of lives going nowhere, of absent meaning, remains identical, however.

The Informers is clearly a prestige project - just look at that cast list. Money has been spent on it. In the first five minutes, it evokes the early 1980s almost perfectly, resembling nothing so much as a Duran Duran promo video. Unfortunately, it can't be sustained - or rather, the filmmakers have chosen to present the early 1980s chiefly through music. Somewhere, there is always a song from the period playing. Which means that in every other respect, The Informers looks and feels like it could have taken place any time during the two decades following. Clearly, music was considered important - Bryan Metro is a major character and he is a pop star. And he performs on stage. He seems to be a sort of Bowie-ish figure - British in the film, American in the book; a drug-addled wreck in both - and the music he performs sounds both original and fitting for the time of the film.

If it was hard to care about the characters in Ellis' novel, at least the prose read as commentary. It's even harder to care about the cast in the film. It may be a well-made movie, but it also seems an entirely pointless one. While it maintains the despair of the novel, it loses Ellis' trademark hallucinogenic gore - an entire subplot about Jamie and his possibly imagined violence is entirely missing. Characters from the book, and their stories, are conflated; others seem to fade into the backdrop - William Sloan does not die in a plane crash, as he does in the book. But most of all, the characters are more... coherent. Their stories are more connected. As an adaptation, it succeeds in capturing the book while not actually being especially faithful to its story. Having read the book years before, and re-read it for this review, I suspect that if I'd seen the film without knowledge of the novel, I'd not have made the effort to seek it out. The Informers is a film out of time. It does not have the advantage of its prose, or of Ellis' oeuvre. It's a classy adaptation, but it's so hard to care - about it or its cast. And that is, I suppose, somewhat ironic, given the lack of affect which pervades the story.

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