‘The Informer’ offers more genre thrills that its lame title would have you think. This Joel Kinnaman led vehicle is the kind of January action cinema fare we have come to expect, packaged in a semi tedious confidential informant drama that finds its feet when it finds itself within the confines of a prison movie.
Duplicity is ‘The Informer’s’ calling card and the film’s hero and ex-con Pete Koslow (Kinnaman), sets the tone for us in the early moments. He is knee-deep in the New York-based Polish mob and is also working with the feds to free himself, his wife (Ana de Armas), and daughter from the drug game.
Pete’s FBI handler (Rosamund Pike) is honing in on the Polish mob boss, who goes by the General, and has a sting operation planned to the hilt. But things go wrong with the operation, leading to the death of an undercover cop. Then a sense of desperation begins to take hold; from Pete, the mob and even the FBI.
There is a deficit of rationality at play as Pete is asked both his string-pullers to leave his family and go back to prison. The fine print differs but the promise of freedom from the FBI is what makes the risk worth it. As the story unfolds, an NYPD detective (Common) gets in the mix because of the murder of one of his men.
Directed by Andrea Di Stefano, ‘The Informer’ is based on a Swedish novel called Three Seconds. This probably explains the Kinnaman connection. I haven’t read it though so I can’t tell if numerous plot turns are a hallmark of the novel. The first act almost feels like the final act of a different thriller before we get the prison movie section which offers the brightest spots.
The film falters when we spend too much time with law enforcement, some of whom, are conflicted and burdened by gratuitous guilt others who are more villainous than the General. Pike’s self-serving boss (Clive Owen) is a step away from being the main baddy in ‘Enemy of the State’ here as he looks to clean up the mess following the death of the police officer. There is zero personality to them save for the abiding cynicism that runs through this film.
But the script undercuts its cynical tone with the way it tries to make certain characters more redeemable than they actually are. It’s not enough that Pete is a loving family man. We have to be told that he is an honorable military vet who was only thrown in jail for manslaughter because he defended his wife in a bar. He obviously did not see con air.
The Informer feels low rent until we get our first eruption of prison violence as the finale begins to take shape. Di Stefano begins to serve us levels of tension and anxiety that resemble something novel as a boxed-in Pete becomes the frantic wild animal we know he can be.
Pete is attacked in the mass dorm where he sleeps and what our director finds most interesting in this gritty scene are the inmates who merely shrug and reset their pillows as a man fights to the death in the background. This sequence is followed by prison lockdown fittingly scored to a blaring alarm as our bloodied hero scampers with purpose towards the light.
The script is again a little too stingy with the amount of intelligence he grants law enforcement so prepare to suspend belief as you root for our protagonist and his family in the execution of a desperate endgame. The reasons for his desperation and the cheap facsimile of stakes are clear enough, though not artfully conveyed to us.
In the end, ‘The Informer’ props down satisfied with its cynical disposition. We all move around with dirt. Those who survive are the ones willing to go to the hilt and make the most of whatever unfair cards are given to them to stay above water. It’s a nasty truth I begrudgingly accepted.