Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Informant

Second excellent Brandon Darby-related doc complements 2011's Better This World.

Sept 10, 2013

-By John DeFore


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1384808-Informant_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The 2011 festival standout doc Better this World (broadcast on PBS's “POV”) told the story of two young idealists, David McKay and Bradley Crowder, whose plans for non-violent protest at 2008's Republican National Convention went awry: They wound up being charged with domestic terrorism, an outcome many blame on undercover FBI informant Brandon Darby, whose alpha-male anarchist posturing goaded them into contemplating the use of Molotov cocktails.

Now comes Jamie Meltzer's excellent Informant, an in-depth portrait of Darby that both complements the earlier film and is engrossing on its own. Activist groups of all stripes will want to see it, but the force of Darby's personality—a rich stew of righteousness, arrogance and self-delusion—gives the doc a psychological appeal independent of politics.

We meet Darby at home, on his own terms: As he stands to speak into the camera, halting to restart an account of the "direct death threats" he has received since being exposed, viewers may suspect they're in for an apologia—that Meltzer thinks Darby is unfairly maligned by the radical Left. In fact, the filmmaker is willing to let Darby have all the time he wants onscreen—but most viewers will come away feeling he has taken all that film and fashioned his own noose.

What makes Darby's story so compelling, and makes his work with the FBI so surprising, is who he was when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Already politically minded with an anarchist bent, the Texan drove to New Orleans hoping to find a friend stuck there. He recalls a standoff with Army Rangers who tried to stop his rescue attempt, the first of many experiences that led him to say, "If I'd had an appropriate weapon, I would have attacked my government for what they were doing" in New Orleans. (That's far from the most reckless-sounding thing he says here.)

Instead he helped launch Common Ground Relief, an action-oriented nonprofit whose effectiveness at delivering food, water and medical help eventually earned the group (and Darby) the respect of the people they were criticizing—like the police chief Darby would later call for advice when he believed he was being approached to help fund a Palestinian terrorist organization. That contact would eventually lead this radical to work for the FBI, in a chain of events that Darby tries to explain.

Common Ground co-founder Scott Crow, and many others who knew and worked with Darby, have their own interpretation of those events and their own theories about what motivated his remarkable conversion. Their insights into his personality dovetail with interviews with journalists who covered the prosecution of Crowder and McKay. Together with footage in which Darby reenacts his own account of events—and audio interviews with McKay himself—viewers are well-equipped to decide what version of this strange tale makes the most sense.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: Informant

Second excellent Brandon Darby-related doc complements 2011's Better This World.

Sept 10, 2013

-By John DeFore


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1384808-Informant_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The 2011 festival standout doc Better this World (broadcast on PBS's “POV”) told the story of two young idealists, David McKay and Bradley Crowder, whose plans for non-violent protest at 2008's Republican National Convention went awry: They wound up being charged with domestic terrorism, an outcome many blame on undercover FBI informant Brandon Darby, whose alpha-male anarchist posturing goaded them into contemplating the use of Molotov cocktails.

Now comes Jamie Meltzer's excellent Informant, an in-depth portrait of Darby that both complements the earlier film and is engrossing on its own. Activist groups of all stripes will want to see it, but the force of Darby's personality—a rich stew of righteousness, arrogance and self-delusion—gives the doc a psychological appeal independent of politics.

We meet Darby at home, on his own terms: As he stands to speak into the camera, halting to restart an account of the "direct death threats" he has received since being exposed, viewers may suspect they're in for an apologia—that Meltzer thinks Darby is unfairly maligned by the radical Left. In fact, the filmmaker is willing to let Darby have all the time he wants onscreen—but most viewers will come away feeling he has taken all that film and fashioned his own noose.

What makes Darby's story so compelling, and makes his work with the FBI so surprising, is who he was when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Already politically minded with an anarchist bent, the Texan drove to New Orleans hoping to find a friend stuck there. He recalls a standoff with Army Rangers who tried to stop his rescue attempt, the first of many experiences that led him to say, "If I'd had an appropriate weapon, I would have attacked my government for what they were doing" in New Orleans. (That's far from the most reckless-sounding thing he says here.)

Instead he helped launch Common Ground Relief, an action-oriented nonprofit whose effectiveness at delivering food, water and medical help eventually earned the group (and Darby) the respect of the people they were criticizing—like the police chief Darby would later call for advice when he believed he was being approached to help fund a Palestinian terrorist organization. That contact would eventually lead this radical to work for the FBI, in a chain of events that Darby tries to explain.

Common Ground co-founder Scott Crow, and many others who knew and worked with Darby, have their own interpretation of those events and their own theories about what motivated his remarkable conversion. Their insights into his personality dovetail with interviews with journalists who covered the prosecution of Crowder and McKay. Together with footage in which Darby reenacts his own account of events—and audio interviews with McKay himself—viewers are well-equipped to decide what version of this strange tale makes the most sense.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

Camp X-Ray
Film Review: Camp X-Ray

Army guard and Guantanamo detainee form a grudging relationship in a thoughtful but far-fetched drama. More »

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Film Review: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

As charming as it is delicate, this unusually low-key, if a tad overlong, animated feature brings yet more prestige to the famed Ghibli output. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here