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I promise, this will be the last time I reference the review I wrote for Unthinkable, which I submitted four days ago now. In fairness to me though, I did mention during that review that I had since been intrigued by another project by the same director. I hadn't particularly enjoyed Unthinkable, but having also seen Gregor Jordan's brilliant Buffalo Soldiers, I was making the point that I hadn't quite given up on his work yet. Boy, do I wish that I had. Based on a novel by the now seminal Bret Easton Ellis with, for the first time, a screenplay co-written by the author himself (along with Nicholas Jarecki - perhaps unsurprisingly, a writer of very little note), this seemed like an interesting prospect and one that I was genuinely looking forward to watching. Having also enjoyed American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction (both very good films, both based on Ellis' novels), I was anticipating at least a decent marrying of writer and director. I was convinced even further when I saw the quite brilliant cast list, and sat myself down for what would surely be a refreshing improvement on the disappointment of Unthinkable. Right? I couldn't have been more wrong.
The year is 1983, the setting: Hollywood, Los Angeles. A time when the top of the pile are disparate and the bottom of the pile, nothing short of desperate. A generation of lost, over-privileged youngsters have little to do other than drink, take drugs and sleep with each other over and over again. A generation of lost, over-privileged oldsters have nothing to do but drink, take drugs and try and sleep with the youngsters over and over again. The people tasked with serving them are barely noticed and often disrespected, desperation leading them to either do despicable things or hold out for the chances that they know will never come. A movie producer torn between his wife and his ex-lover, the wife torn between her husband and her bright young thing. The bright young thing distracted by his music videos, unaware of the pain his two three-way relationships are causing. The debauched music legend spiralling towards a life of drug addiction, self-harm and sexual violence. The doorman whose uncle has involved him in something he is desperate to find a way out of, if only he could find a way out of his own painful existence. All strands will intertwine, all lost souls will cross paths, but will anyone come out of it okay?
Sounds good, right? And it probably would have been, if this film hadn't been so utterly convinced of its moralistic stance that it felt nothing more was required. Ellis has trodden this ground before, many times and with repeated success. His satirical analysis of a privileged, amoral youth is precisely what has won him so much critical admiration, but he has always seemed to tell his stories through the eyes of likeable, or at the very least approachable, characters. Not so here, where basically all but one minor character is one or more of childish, snotty, disrespectful, unapproachable (from a viewing point of view), unforgivable, without clear motive, badly written, whiney, boring, without arc or just plain impenetrable. So it is then that the majority of the film is spent not really caring who is happy, who is sad, who will live or who will die. Apart from in the case of one character: Jack, played by the late Brad Renfro (this his last film), the lonesome doorman whose uncle (played by Mickey Rourke) has dragged him down a path of kidnapping and the wrath of dangerous criminals. Amongst all the direness, Renfro manages to put in a really decent showing and makes his character's sub-plot easily the most engaging and satisfying element of The Informers.
On the subject of casting, I found it to be one of the strangest things about this flick. With the older generation being played by a relative smorgasbord of big-name talents (Billy-Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Rhys Ifans, Winona Ryder and the already-mentioned Mickey Rourke), it seemed as though many of the younger roles had been handed to equally relative unknowns. Whether or not this was a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers, or the actors who got the roles were just deemed the most worthy of these parts, I am not sure. What it came across as, was an utterly pretentious attempt at 'discovering' a new generation of hot talent - something that, if this was the case, has fallen flat on its face and broken its cheekbones. Perhaps the casting of such unfamiliars was due to the amount of gratuitous, at times just bizarre, nudity that was (not) required for these roles. Either way, what they have ended up with is a group of poorly considered, badly written youngsters played by less-than-average actors in a film that surely should never have been made, let alone released. I lost count of the number of times I nearly turned this off and chose unconsciousness as a much better alternative. If it hadn't been for Renfro's sub-plot being conveniently portioned throughout, I might never have seen this to the bitter, pointless and quite frankly obvious end.
In 2013, Bret Easton Ellis will grace us with The Canyons, a film being made from his first original feature-length screenplay and directed by Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull). The tagline: "Youth, glamor, sex and Los Angeles, circa 2012." Sound familiar? Only time will tell if he is the terrible film scribe that The Informers has made him out to be. As for Gregor Jordan, I give up. Two out of three is terrible in this case, and in future I will hesitate to watch a film that has his name attached to it. Not satisfied with making a film containing vacuous, reprehensible and uninspiring characters, this team also chose to cram it with patronising moralistic undertones and loose, tiresome storytelling. If one of the underlying messages here is one of cautionary values meant to highlight the misunderstanding of HIV and AIDS in the early eighties, there are two problems with this. One: there is no need to be so crass about it, and two: if you want us to get the message, you need to keep our attention in order to do so. With some really cogent points to take on board during these 90 minutes, at no point did this viewer find himself caring what these artists were trying to tell me. That, in no small way, is where The Informers failed most abysmally.