Bret Easton Ellis' 1994 novel of "The Informers" really wasn't a novel at all, but more a collection of short stories with overlapping characters. In adapting the material for the screen, Ellis and co-writer Nicholas Jarecki have interwoven the free-flowing storylines into a cohesive, devastating, altogether more satisfying whole. Altmanesque in style but Lynchian in feel, the film ties together a dystopian society of miserable, wayward lost spirits who do as they please and have money to burn, but are without any idea how to connect in healthy human ways with those around them. So egocentric that they don't realize it, most of the characters drift from one reckless sexual encounter to the next as they self-medicate with drugs, attend upscale parties and rock concerts, and ultimately careen ever closer to oblivion. For those few who are aware of the superficiality of their surroundings, all they can do is sit back, aghast at a cycle of gross societal disaffection they have no control over.
Predominately set in the rich-glitz squalor of excess-fueled 1983 Los Angeles, "The Informers" fittingly begins at a youthful mansion soirée where on-hiatus college kid Graham Sloan (Jon Foster) watches as friend Bruce (Fernando Consagra) is hit by a car and killed almost instantly. At the funeral, Bruce's mom (Suzanne Ford) weeps over the loss of her only son and plays Pat Benetar's "Shadows of the Night" in dedication while only one fellow mourner, Raymond (Aaron Himelstein), a sensitive teen not privy to how much Bruce disliked him, seems at all impacted by the death. The rest simply sit there and silently question the choice in song. Presumably on summer break from school, Graham passes aimlessly through his days with hot, vacant girlfriend Christie (Amber Heard) and sometimes male lover Martin (Austin Nichols) while wondering if there might be more to life than this.
Martin, meanwhile, is having a secret affair with Graham's pill-swilling mother, Laura (Kim Basinger), who breaks things off with him when she decides to allow separated movie producer husband William (Billy Bob Thornton) to move back in. Why does Laura put herself through the ordeal of getting her heart broken time and again when she knows William is a philanderer still interested in news anchor Cheryl Laine (Winona Ryder)? She has no idea of the answer, and yet cannot bring herself to cut the necessary ties. Just as Laura and William barely have relationships with children Graham and Susan (Cameron Goodman), so, too, are the bonds rocky between Graham's pal, Tim Price (Lou Taylor Pucci), and his skirt-chasing father, Les (Chris Isaak). Les has swept Tim off to a resort in Hawaii for some quality time together, but seems more interested in passively criticizing his son while attempting to steal away beach bunny Rachel (Jessica Stroup) from him.
Living on the outside of the faux-glam lifestyle is apartment doorman Jack (Brad Renfo), who watches as tenants Graham and Christie come and go. When his scuzzy loose cannon of an uncle, Peter (Mickey Rourke), arrives on his doorstep with 16-year-old girlfriend Mary (Angela Sarafyan) and a young boy he has kidnapped, Jack is faced with a crime unwittingly shoved in his face and some very heavy choices to make. And then there's rock musician Bryan Metro (Mel Raido), a junkie so strung out that he arrives by plane in L.A. to perform on his "Informers World Tour '83-'84" and remarks that he thinks he might have lived there at one time. When he isn't sleeping with underaged strangers in his hotel room, he's violently doing worse to them in a drug-stained fugue that never ends.
Stylishly directed by Gregor Jordan with a no-nonsense, but still sleek and eye-popping, sheen, "The Informers" drops the viewer into a specific time and place that seems as if it should be attractive, but becomes more nightmarish the deeper one gazes. Not everyone on display is a bad personfew innately arebut their souls have been deadened by a heartless, consumer-driven lifestyle that has stripped them of everything but their impossibly good looks. In the case of the teens and twentysomethings, the drive to become someone or something has been replaced with the acceptance of just being
, their only concerns in the here and now. That their innocuous hedonism is in its final gaspsnews stories about the new AIDS epidemic fill the airwaves, and Christie grows sicker as bruises and lesions appear on her youthful bodyis a statement made loud and clear, subtly lingering and eating away at their ignorant frivolity.
Thirtysomething Cheryl Laine knows differently in the ways of career; she has climbed her way to being a recognized news reporter and businesswoman, only to find that she is just as confused and unhappy as anyone. A scene where Cheryl seeks refuge in a small diner and is approached by a punk who claims to want her autograph is stingingly disturbing, not for what occurs, but for what is inferred by the obviously mocking tone of him and his rowdy, giggling table of friends. Cheryl hasn't asked for this treatment, and she hasn't asked to be used by William as his "other woman." As for the elder characters, William and Laura have matured, but learned little out of experience, sheltered from poverty but not from the loss of their identities and happiness. And Les Price, Tim's dad, doesn't hardly know how old he is, grasping at his younger years and too preoccupied to see the damage he has caused from his apathetic parenting.
In an encompassing ensemble, Jon Foster (2006's "Stay Alive
") is as close to the lead as the film gets. As Graham Sloan, Foster is remarkable in his assuredness and swagger, but also in the glimpses of humanity he holds onto that have yet to be snuffed out. In a moment of piercing honesty that says everything about the atmosphere he has grown up in, Graham pleads to Martin, "I need someone to tell me what is good and what is bad. How are you supposed to know if no one ever teaches you that?" The rest of the cast are well chosen, dutifully filling out their roles. Winona Ryder (2006's "A Scanner Darkly
") resembles a frail little bird as Cheryl Laine, vulnerable and all alone even with everyone knowing who she is. Kim Basinger (2006's "The Sentinel
") turns Laura into an aging woman who has been building up anger and resentment for William after years of weak-willing subservience. In his last film role, the late Brad Renfro (2005's "The Jacket
") is a touching, jittery ball of nerves and desperation as sad-eyed failed actor Jack. Chris Isaak (2004's "A Dirty Shame
") is excellent as the clueless, smooth-talking Les, son Tim moving further away from him as he makes a half-hearted effort to edge closer. Finally, Amber Heard (2008's "Pineapple Express
") is stunning in every way as Christie, playing the bulk of her scenes sans clothing but insisting that the viewer remember her for far more than just that fact.
"The Informers," accurately recalling the hair, fashion, music and pop-culture of the early '80s without turning it into an excuse for campiness, is aesthetically pretty, subjectively ugly, and emotionally incisive. In the end, the film leaves one dismayed and rattled at the empty human shells on display and the reality that these people, in their own way, do exist. Rewarding in countless ways and never less than enthralling, the picture celebrates the passing of a not-so-innocent era and mourns the victims left in its wake. Even as the sun shines brightly overhead, the threat of tragedy is imminent. When Jack tells Graham at one point that something really terrible is about to happen, it comes as a portentous harbinger. Is the apocalypse underway? Maybe not. But when Graham is faced with the deteriorating body of a dying, disease-addled Christie laying on the beach in the picture's final moments, whatever life she may have once had stolen from her, one thing is certain: for him, for his friends and family, for the microcosm of Los Angeles and for the whole world, nothing will ever be the same again.