"The Informers" is a most curious film. Every time it seems to be going somewhere it inexplicably chooses to sabotage itself: the best scenes seem to end just when they are getting started, the worst scenes seem to take forever and there is a marked disconnect between the tone of the screenplay and the tone of the film. I was not at all surprised to find out that Bret Easton Ellis (poet laurerate of rich, bored, young, blonde, white, Reagan-era Los Angelinos), who co-wrote the screenplay, intended for it to be a vicious satire on 80s excess that bordered on farce while Gregor Jordan, the director, saw it as a portrait of dissatisfaction and urban alienation. This explains why much of the movie feels uncomfortably like parody taken at face value. What is worse, however, is that there are just enough glimmers of the greatness that could have been to make the experience of watching it twice as depressing.
The 1980's setting, key to the film, is very well rendered without being needlessly overbearing (despite some less-than-subtle references to the impending AIDS epidemic and name dropping Ronald Reagan). Beyond the fashion, architecture and music it is the hedonism and me-first philosophy that shines through. The film is also well cast (surely it can't be coincidence that Chris Isaak seems to be channeling Kurt Russell and other key performers tend to resemble Anthony Michael Hall, James Spader and Matthew Modine?) and beautifully photographed. Its funereal tone, aided in no small part by Christopher Young's magnificent score, manages to almost work much of the time and fully work some of the time (especially toward the end) despite being at odds with the screenplay.
Would the film have been better served by adhering to the author's original vision? I'm not sure. Bret Easton Ellis has made an entire career out of satirizing 80's excess while nostalgically pining for it. Much like Chuck Palahniuk he has proven to be little more than a one trick pony. As a result there is nothing new, fresh or even remotely original in his writing. The fact he wrote the film's key emotional scenes as parody should tell you everything you need to know about him. He complained that Mary Harron's adaptation of "American Psycho" was done entirely "in quotations" but I certainly can't think of a better phrase to describe his writing itself. Gregor Jordan's key mistake may not have been to deviate tonally but to not rewrite much of the screenplay to better support the tone he was going for.
"The Informers", thus, is a curious if sometimes interesting failure. I would certainly like to see an extended cut (41 minutes of footage were apparently removed for its theatrical release) since there is enough in here to pique my interest but I have a feeling the film crippled itself irrevocably sometime before production began.