“How do you know what’s good and what’s bad?”
Author Bret Easton Ellis completely resonates with me. Actually, I’m not sure I can make that statement since I’ve never read a book by him, despite having most on my shelf. Where his characters have affected me is in the films adapted from his work. Every single person he infuses into his sprawling tales of excess and youth culture is devoid of morals, selfish beyond measure, and living life as though the next day will be his last. Between American Psycho and Rules of Attraction, two absolutely fantastic films in my eyes, you see the blank stares and coldness these people possess. They are mannequins in superb physical condition, living in a world of superficiality, their insides empty to emotion or compassion. When a semblance of being good, or feeling something real comes up, they don’t know how to deal with it after so long a time of not caring. From all the press and reviews I read about the latest Ellis adaptation, The Informers, I thought that I’d finally be let down. I should have known his words would not lie, however, because director Gregor Jordan has crafted them into another winner.
The film is the weakest of his works, but lesser Ellis is still more enthralling to me than most things out there. Going back to the 80s, recalling the heightened actions of playboys like Patrick Bateman and his crew in American Psycho, this multi-narrative tale shows a little bit more of the emptiness excess brings with it. Instead of watching as a rich yuppie goes on a killing spree because he can and no one cares enough to notice during their quests motivated by greed, we see the intricacies of wealth and its effect on the youth of Los Angeles. Hollywood’s seedy underbelly is on full display from all parts of the social spectrum. You have the film producer son beginning to grow a conscious as his girlfriend cheats on him, his parents show what a failed relationship is, and his so called friends prove to only be there for him when it suits their needs; the out of work actor manning the desk of a condominium as he tries to break into the industry being visited by his criminal uncle looking to make a quick buck by kidnapping and selling a young boy; a junkie rockstar so out of his mind that he needs to ask whether he’s lived in LA before, despite having an estranged wife and child in the area, when he’s coherent enough to remove the underage boys and girls he’s bedding; and the young product of a failed marriage taken to Hawaii by dear old Dad, more as an attempt to see if his son is gay then to try and reconnect with him. Boy the 80s sound like a great time, don’t they?
When sitting down to watch an Ellis film, I truly believe you need to open your mind and understand that it exists in an alternate reality. His view of America is skewed to show the entertaining and horrible aspects of humanity; how greed and sex can manipulate even the best of us into becoming the people we see throwing their lives away despite the silver spoon. Jon Foster’s Graham could be the first character I’ve seen that may actually want redemption. He tells his director friend, sometime lover, and rumored prostitute Martin, (played by Austin Nichols who is king at doing Hollywood bimbo with a mix of conniving intelligence despite his touched country boy in “John From Cincinnati”), that he wants more; he needs someone to tell him the difference between right and wrong. Growing up with money and private schools does nothing to help unburden the need of a role model, especially when his parents are all but absent and the worst examples of good you could find. The life of no consequences in a world falling apart can no longer sustain him. The idyllic image of youth has been destroyed; the Hollywood sign is graffiti-filled, the AIDS epidemic is spreading, and violence has seeped in where the fervor of life and joy used to be.
One could fault the acting due to this hyper-real existence, but it’s slightly off-kilter delivery is what actually makes it great. Everyone is playing their roles purposely over-the-top or with robotic lack of emotion. Lou Taylor Pucci is the epitome of an Ellis creation, doing his best riff of Christian Bale or James Van Der Beek from their entries. Watching his father, an effective portrayal from Chris Isaak, make a fool out of himself, pretending he is much younger and cooler than he is, disgusts him. The chance of love between them has been gone for a long time, so he stands prideful, smoking his cigarette, acting as though he is ruler of the world, a common thought for most Ellis men. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the author wrote the screenplay too—which he didn’t for previous films—but I think The Informers delves deeper into the psyche and darkness of these people. There is more time devoted to internal workings and motivations and evolutions here. It still keeps its dry, sarcastic edge of humor, but there is more, bringing a sense of purpose whereas the other films were more satire.
And the rest of the acting is pretty great on most counts. Billy Bob Thornton is so calm and cool you have to believe he is numb from some sort of drug, or maybe he’s just too selfish to care; Mickey Rourke does what he does best, badass criminals biting off more than they can chew; Amber Heard is given room to be an actual actress rather than the eye-candy ditz she is usually relegated to, interesting since this is the film she is naked for most of its duration, but what she goes through is shown with some truth; Mel Raido is fantastic as rocker Bryan Metro, so messed up that when real feelings come out, they are too foreign for him to know what he should do with them; and Brad Renfro—it’s a shame this is the last we’ll see of him because the ticks and insecurities of Jack the desk clerk are devastatingly authentic. Renfro was kind of a revelation here, showing some range, it’s unfortunate his real life ran a course similar to the glamorous demise befallen of the hard-livers portrayed. This is Ellis with consequences, all the glitz and “fun” of the high life but with the tragic results that occur when the bottom falls out. It suits his world nicely, showing that not all his youngsters are invincible, whether emotionally or physically. I really need to start reading.
The Informers 8/10 | ★ ★ ★