Film Review: The Informers

Gregor Jordan and Bret Easton Ellis take no prisoners in this uncompromising, expertly crafted shocker about hedonism in early-’80s L.A.

Apparently at this year's Sundance The Informers held the dubious honor of designated punching bag. But this latest offering from the gifted Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) has been unjustly maligned. A portrait of hedonism and debauchery run amok in early-AIDS-era L.A., The Informers keeps you riveted even when its characters' depravity—and display of bodily fluids—provokes a need to glance away or go take a shower. Adapted by Bret Easton Ellis and Nicholas Jarecki from Ellis' novel, the film braids together the strands of interconnecting lives in quickie scenes (think Robert Altman's Short Cuts, which Ellis cites as an inspiration). The headlong pace and lack of resolution mimic the fractured attention spans of the characters, denizens of a glittering, malevolent L.A., thrillingly captured in repeating aerial shots. Viewers may be appalled and dispirited by the world onscreen, yet the film remains uncompromising in its vision, reflecting a seamless rapport among writers, director and cast.

It's none too subtle, but to signal the nascent epidemic, the film opens with blood. At the first of many orgiastic parties, a guy is killed in a car accident and symbolically smears his blood, like the mark of Cain, on the protagonist, gorgeous blond Graham (Jon Foster). Graham hangs with gorgeous blond Christie (Amber Heard), whose bare chest alone should pack the multiplex. The couple also favors threesomes with video producer Martin (Austin Nichols)—who moonlights as the boyfriend of Graham's pill-popping mom (Kim Basinger). Tellingly, Mom and her odious husband, a Hollywood dream merchant played by Billy Bob Thornton, rarely appear onscreen with the younger generation, a clever shorthand to indicate that the offspring can expect no moral compass from their equally corrupt elders. Rounding out the group is the husband's TV newscaster girlfriend (Winona Ryder); a drug-addled rock star (Mel Raido) who stocks his hotel room with underage bedmates; and on the bottom of the spectrum, a loathsome fellow in Ray-Bans and mullet (Mickey Rourke) who makes a living kidnapping minors.

Leavening this display of depravity is the occasional need for, well, human connection. Graham's sister struggles to protect their fragile mother from another crackup. Ellis has also woven into the fabric the theme of fathers and sons. But when one obtuse, alcoholic dad attempts a just-us-boys trip to Hawaii, the son brushes off Dad's efforts as too little, too late. When Graham is called on to rescue the now extremely ill Christie, lying alone on a desolate beach, again it's too late. The Informers has been faulted for flaunting its characters' nihilistic lifestyle. Others will see it as a morality tale about debts coming due, with a strange resonance for America today. Either way, the team behind The Informers has pulled off a hard-edged, artfully crafted entertainment.