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Saturday Night at the Movies I

By Gavin James Bower.

I’m tempted to kick this off by discussing Amber Heard’s breasts. That she’s blessed with divine mammaries is certainly touched on in The Informers – in every sense of the phrase – but talk like that has no place in something commissioned by the 3am Girls let alone 3:AM Magazine. So I won’t mention them.

Based on the short-story collection by Bret Easton Ellis – who, unlike with previous Ellis book-to-film projects, co-wrote the screenplay – and directed by Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers, Ned Kelly), The Informers is a collection of vignettes set in 1980s Los Angeles, loosely-connected and woven together to reflect the (a)moral fabric of Reagan’s America.

On one part of the city we have Graham, his friend Martin and girlfriend Christie (Amber Heard) all doing drugs as well as each other, while at home his mother Laura (Kim Basinger) is desperately trying to restore family life with her film producer husband William (Billy Bob Thornton) – despite the fact that she’s sleeping with the aforementioned Martin while he’s continuing an affair with news anchor Cheryl (Winona Ryder).

Elsewhere, Peter (played by an even-more-frightening-than-usual Mickey Rourke) muscles his way into the home of nephew Jack – a wannabe actor captured superbly by Brad Renfro, the former child star who died of an overdose shortly after finishing filming – before kidnapping a small boy and holding him to ransom.

The film’s established as well as unestablished cast members all deliver solid performances – Jon Foster as Graham is particularly good – but the stand-out scenes belong to Mel Raido as Bryan Metro, a rock star so messed up he can’t remember when he lived in LA or why his young son is now scared to death of him. Mumbling his way through meetings with film execs and struggling to remain coherent on stage for his ‘Informers World Tour’, Metro personifies rock bottom – with a nasty penchant for injecting heroin, all-day drinking and bathing in ice after violent sex with under-age groupies.

As a fan of Ellis the writer, I’d been looking forward to The Informers for a long time – not least because the release date was pushed back on more than one occasion. Even when it was finally screened and the reviews – in the US and, more recently, the UK – slammed the film as vapid, pointless or just bloody awful, I still wanted to see it.

And I’m glad I did. The Informers is neither quite as good as I’d hoped, nor anywhere near as bad as I’d feared.

Of course, the formula – young people enjoying, or not enjoying as the case may be, too much sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – is tried and tested. But this is because Ellis, with Less Than Zero and later American Psycho, has come to define the genre for a generation by taking a commentary on decadence much further than his predecessors dared. His characters are not merely spoiled rich kids; they’re progeny of equally nihilistic parents, intentionally two-dimensional by-products of a society that treats wealth as a virtue and apathy an inalienable right. They’re not simply jaded, nor even to be dismissed as just plain ‘bad’. Instead, they actively embrace moral abandonment in every area of their desolate lives, while at the same time clinging vainly to the hope of redemption – the result of which is a harrowing and near-Nietzschean plunge into the abyss.

The Informers works because Gregor Jordan gets this, and in so doing he’s managed to create a slick-looking film (with the exception of one jarring scene involving a blue screen) that cinematically translates Ellis the writer as well as Ellis the satirist in the most pleasing way possible. Sure, the vampire section of the book, perhaps its most important, is gone, and there’s that blue screen scene – no I won’t let it go, because it really is that terrible – but the opening sequence of Graham, Martin and Christie at a house party, set to ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’ by Simple Minds, is mind-blowing.

If you like Ellis and understand what an adaptation of his work should look like, or if you simply want something different this summer, then check out The Informers. Just ignore the reviews.

Um, except this one, of course…

First posted: Saturday, July 25th, 2009.

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