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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Informers (2009)
The Informers (2009)
Sony Pictures // R // August 25, 2009
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted August 18, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Informers is a film bathed in the decadence and style of the 1980's, but the problem of aimlessness that plagues the movie would be the same in any era. Based on a book of short stories by Bret Easton Ellis, the writer of American Psycho and co-adapted by the man himself, the movie seems to have vague notions of being a Crash-like ensemble drama but never even tries and fails to pull it together. When the credits rolled, I actually yelled "What?!" at the screen: the timing of the movie's conclusion literally manages to rob the entire rest of the movie of any point.

Our central story, if you could say there was one, follows Graham (Jon Foster), a disaffected guy who seems distressed by the idea of being around his estranged parents William (Billy Bob Thornton) and Laura (Kim Basinger), his sister's angry accusations that he is a loser and the swinging nature of his beautiful girlfriend Christie (Amber Heard). In close second is the story of a disaffected rock star named Bryan Metro (Mel Raido) who is distressed by the idea of his estranged wife Nina (Simone Kessell) having left with his young son. Third, we have Jack (Brad Renfro), a disaffected would-be actor working as a doorman, distressed at his estranged Uncle Pete (Mickey Rourke) for barging in with a sixteen-year-old girlfriend, kidnapping a young boy and keeping him at Jack's house. Lastly, Tim Price (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a disaffected kid distressed by his estranged father Les (Chris Isaak) and his attempts to bond with him.

You may be asking, do any of these distressed, estranged people and their stories have an actual dramatic conflict that the movie is meant to be about? The answer is no. Merely existing is meant to be enough. I don't know why the movie expects us to care or invest in a bunch of "totally" uninteresting, unsympathetic people wandering around in expensive-looking homes not caring about one another, but at 98 minutes, the movie just flies along, figuring that we're on board for the ride just because the film is indicating that these are our main characters.

Even in good movies, there's sometimes one person who read the script and thought that the project could go either way, and showed up wanting to work but without any specific investment in the material. I doubt it's ever malicious or outright laziness, but you can often just feel it when an actor is banking on their co-stars and director to make it all work. In the case of The Informers, it's almost fascinating how everyone seems to have shown up with that mentality. Billy Bob Thornton is the worst offender, engaging his character for brief moments here and there but mostly just hanging around with a glazed-over look in his eyes and no discernable emotion about anything happening to him. Winona Ryder plays a news reporter named Cheryl Laine, whose affair with Thornton's William ended his marriage to Laura. Ryder seems unsure of how to react to Thornton's insistent blankess, and when she runs from the sight of William, it's almost like she runs right out of the movie itself.

The only three actors who don't seem like they're sleepwalking are Foster, Basinger and Renfro. As I said before, Foster's character Graham is sort of the central character in the film, but despite his status as the film's backbone, he doesn't have a significant enough role for his interest to save the movie. His performance kept me personally from becoming bored with the film, but other than that, he's doing good supporting work into an empty void. Kim Basinger has a single good scene, but she's playing against Thornton, who remains flat as a board. It doesn't quite kill what she's doing, but it certainly fails to elevate it.

And then there's Brad Renfro. I haven't seen very many films with the late actor (the most significant role I remember having seen of his is his bit part in Ghost World), but I'd like to take a moment to urge any Renfro fans to stay far, far away. The actor looks doughy and tired: just looking at him is a vision of the balding, pudgy future that never was. He lumbers around awkwardly, hunched over and ill-at-ease, and sadly, his acting is even more depressing. He seems twitchy, sweaty and unsure of himself, trying to use all of his performance instincts but falling just short of the intended notes. Watching Renfro in the movie is a stark, unfortunate reminder of his personal battles (it's hard to not think he might be on drugs during some of the scenes in the film) and a sad, embarrassing way to end his career. The film is dedicated to his memory. Even if the rest of the movie had been good, it would still seem like a backhanded compliment.

Even after all of this, I thought the film might not be as terrible as some people had made it out to be depending on what it ended with. I wouldn't be particularly invested in the conclusion, but aside from Renfro, the movie breezes by, trying to trick viewers into liking it by piling on the Amber Heard nudity (she's topless for literally more than 60% of her screen time) and a cast of movie stars, which is far from the worst crime I've seen committed by a motion picture. Then, out of nowhere, the film almost gleefully shoots itself in the foot with a couple of consecutive concluding moments that finally stirred something in me: aggravation. I don't want to make it sound like a painful experience, because I didn't think it was; the film is certainly watchable and technically competent, it just doesn't have any compelling reason to exist. Maybe that's Bret Easton Ellis' big joke on the audience: this is truly an 80's experience that values style and flash over substance.

The Informers loses the DVD cover lottery with terrible artwork that just lazily slaps the stars on there and calls it a day. It also commits the extremely aggravating crime of putting heads near names and not having them correspond. The back cover seems overcrowded with information. The case is an Eco-Box, there's no insert, and the disc art is nothing more than the unfinished silver top, with the logo on it.

The Video
The Informers is graced with a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that's among the best I've seen recently. The whole thing has a stylish, glossy sheen like an upscale magazine photo shoot, complete with a lot of strong detail in the actor's faces and solid colors (intentionally dialed down just a touch). It's even free of the usual "Sony" look of new movies I mention so often, where whites turn gray and everything looks like it has a blanket of shadow over it.

The AudiO
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio has a lot of synth and flash to work with, effectively adding to the overall mood of the picture. The movie sounds the way it looks; somehow you can hear the gloss and sheen surrounding the dialogue and music. It's not crispness, it's richness, if you know what I mean. English subtitles are provided on both the film and all of the bonus features, including the audio commentary.

The Extras
An audio commentary with director Gregor Jordan and stars Jon Foster and Lou Taylor Pucci has a bit of a split personality. On one hand you have Gregor Jordan trying to explain the themes and production of his movie, and on the other hand you have Foster and Pucci adding insightful notes such as "Banging!", "I think it's retarded" and "This is the most awesome scene." At least Jordan doesn't actually comment much on the perceived quality of his film or talk about it pretensiously, or the entire thing would be insufferable. Somewhat disappointingly, Gregor talks about a longer version of the film, including an alternate ending, which are not present on the DVD.

"Human Intersection: The Making of The Informers" (15:xx) is a meandering EPK feature that continues the tug-of-war. On one side, you have a mildly interesting interview with director Jordan, while on the other hand you have the unseen interviewer asking the cast what they were doing in the 1980's (surprise, most of them were being born). There's also an unintentionally funny bit of editing where Foster is talking about how much he loves Bret Easton Ellis' work, while admitting that every actor will say the same thing, followed by a remarkably uninterested-looking Billy Bob Thornton, still wearing sunglasses, tossing off some lame compliment for the author. Zing!

Trailers for Assassination of a High School President and Dark Country play automatically when you start the DVD, with a gallery of additional trailers (for Blood and Bone, Blu-Ray Disc is High-Definition!, Fireflies in the Garden, The Maiden Heist, Fragments, Dark Streets, The Human Contract, What Goes Up, Tyson, Rudo Y Cursi, Adoration, "Rescue Me" Seasons 1-4 and "The Shield" Seasons 1-7) on the DVD.

The only reason The Informers is going to score any viewers is either the draw of Ellis' involvement or gawkers looking to spy Amber Heard in all of her glory or Brad Renfro at the bottom of the barrel, but even the rubberneckers can surely skip it until the movie is on premium cable to enjoy the film's few cheap thrills.

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