The novels of Bret Easton Ellis predate what I would like to call 2010s obsession with hedonistic, spoiled Americans. The theme has gone all the way from this decade’s films (Project X, Spring Breakers, The Wolf of Wall Street, Maps to the Stars, The Bling Ring, etc.) and into pop music (the entire discographies of Lana Del Rey, Miley Cyrus, and the like). It seems like the “American dream” is grounds for various different insights – positive or negative – and it feels, in my eyes, that this all presented as prologue via Gregor Jordan’s The Informers – a film based on one of Ellis’ compilations of short stories. It’s fitting that Ellis be the sort-of introduction to this “wave” (for lack of a better term) of films that analyze the “decline of the Western civilization”, but I’m not very sure that others are on the same page. The film, itself, has a 20% on Metacritic, and then a 13% on Rotten Tomatoes – and Ellis himself has gone on record to say that he wasn’t a fan. I don’t think we should be quick to write it off, however.
The Informers takes place in early-1980s Los Angeles – and all the characters breathe and bleed the upper-class superiority of an Angelino with enough money to burn. Not all the stories feel particularly fresh – and the film itself is certainly no Robert Altman nor P.T. Anderson picture – but there’s a vapid feeling about them all and how they work together, and I’ve noticed a lot of the pans for the film seem to (understandably) pass it by for these reasons. Watching a movie about pretentious and snobby rich white people, even one that’s a short 98 minutes in length, isn’t really that easy to call entertainment. What’s interesting is while this can detract a viewer – it’s these same very reasons that I have for praising it.
The single element within The Informers that gives it an extra punch, for me, is the single strand (no pun intended) of ambiguity that is placed beneath the film’s multiple stories. Roger Ebert’s review – which, while not a thumbs up, still found things to applaud – sums it up best as to the film’s abruptness at its finish line. An already short film about 10+ characters finds itself ending at a brick wall and where the audience is left wondering “is that it?” on the same equivalent as The Sopranos’ cut to black.
Ebert and I agree on the film’s production design – which strays back-and-forth between real and superficial, almost unintentionally as a statement – and with the character development itself. Ebert writes: “If he finds no depths in the characters, well, what depths are there? What you see is what you get. Sometimes less than that. Some viewers of "The Informers" criticize it for lacking a third act, but these lives are all two-act plays.” Which is the devastating point that The Informers is making – but also with a touch of the zeitgeist. And that very zeitgeist is found in the character portrayed by Amber Heard.
Many reviews almost laughed away how Heard’s performance in the film was ten minutes of screentime and all of which was pretty much in the nude. And they’re correct – minus the few who happened to make misogynistic comments about how it’s the only “good thing” about the movie. Heard’s character is named Christie, and she’s the definition of the American dream girl: gorgeous, fearless. Heard steps into the role in a physical manner, feeling comfortable on camera in some of the most degrading of scenes which strip her away for pure sex appeal. But her character ultimately becomes the tragedy of The Informers – and she is featured in the last scene (and shot) as a testament to what was to come of these “two-act” lives. Everyone in The Informers is fucking one another, but pay attention to the connections, and then you have your third act. In fact, the only character unscathed is the one played by Brad Renfro (who, sadly, died around the time of the film’s release) and – alongside Winona Ryder – stand as the film’s perfectly depressing stunt castings; both playing “has-beens” who are, in some way or another, affected negatively by those who are around them.
It’s not a fun time. It’s not necessarily a complex narrative. But what makes The Informers work is that it’s about the artificiality and hollowness of this kind of living – and showcases, rather grimly, the demise of them all within the framework of being “punished” for their sexual freedoms, naivety, and awareness of the world that they live in. Taking place thirty years ago, it’s revealing as to how relevant that all still is.