There is a difference between making a film about nihilism and making a film that's about nothing. That distinction gets lost in Gregor Jordan's dismal adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' short story collection "The Informers."
"The Informers" is an uninteresting collision of unlikeable characters doing unpleasant things to each other. And don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those "I need a character to root for in order to enjoy a movie" critics, but it's almost impossible to imagine any viewer taking any sort of interest -- encouraging or pure schadenfreude -- in the debauchery and excess of this group of attractive white Los Angelenos.
The version of "The Informers" playing at Sundance is bad, but it also feels gutted, like whole scenes and character details got left out. Ellis' prose is extreme, but little in this movie goes as far as the author usually likes to. This leads me to believe that after the movie tanks in April, an Unrated Directors Cut DVD will hit the shelves. I'd be happy to revisit the film in that cut.
[More thoughts after the bump.]
While the press notes for "The Informers" rave about Ellis' grasp on contemporary mores, that isn't really true, is it? He's a master at tapping into a specic kind of '80s consciousness, but that isn't really contemporary. "The Informers" is set in 1983, but Jordan can't really articulate why this is a story that should be told now. Is his point that people in Hollywood still do horrible things? Is he trying to suggest that 1983 was a cultural tipping point of some sort? Or does he just want to giggle at the haircuts, thin ties and retro pop music?
In its ideal form, "The Informers" should function like an upper crust "Shortcuts," an anthology film with interlocking characters. While some of the pretty people in "The Informers" are related to each other and others are screwing and many of them are tied together by a not-very-tragic tragedy that begins the movie, there's no cumulative effect to the narrative. There's no Butterfly Effect sense that the stories are impacting each other. In one dismal story, in fact, two characters just head off to Hawaii and become irrelevant, but keep interrupting the L.A. story (and shattering the L.A. mood and period) with their umbrella drinks and leis.
With a running time of under 100 minutes, there just isn't an opportunity for characters to advance beyond simplistic archetypes and with nothing unique to latch onto, the characters aren't worth following.
Billy Bob Thornton's a studio executive with a mistress. Kim Basinger plays his wife, a lonely woman having an affair with a younger man. There's a drug-addled British rock star, a trademark Mickey Rourke sleaze and a younger generation of rich twentysomethings who live in a world without boundaries. And by the end, I guess everybody learns that the way they're living is fundamentally flawed, but I'd stopped caring, especially since the only arc that has any finality is so rushed as to be laughable.
With a cast this good, you know that there will at least be isolated performances that work. Basinger has quiet vulnerable moments and then one scene of tear-filled shouting, which counts as well-rounded here. Chris Isaak is trapped in the Hawaiian subplot, but he goes against type well, playing a boorish and ineffective father. There was also something emotional in watching the final screen performance by the late Brad Renfro, whose real life was a better cautionary tale than a nything in the movie.
I'm inclined to briefly comment on Amber Heard, who plays Christie, a flirty young woman caught in the middle of a love triangle. You know that old Hollywood chestnut where actresses say they'll only do nudity if it's necessary for the character? Obviously Heard felt that way about this film, because she's at least partially naked for most of the movie. Her character is crucial to the movie, but it seems like all of her dramatic scenes must have been cut, leaving only the nudity. Seriously, how bad does a movie have to be if I'm saying that I wished Heard's role had included more exposition to justify the nudity?
Ellis' books are hard to adapt into movies and both "American Psycho" and "Rules of Attraction" are only partially successful in my book. "The Informers," which Ellis actually co-wrote with Nicholas Jarecki, doesn't even rise to their level.