“The Informers” exists in one very long moment of clarity, the kind that people have after an evening of sin and regret. It involves characters who live in a sad routine of drugs and sex, only to discover sobering truths about themselves once the party’s over. Even when they’re levelheaded enough to pity themselves, they find that their insecurities are to disturbing to manage. That might explain why everybody in this movie acts so selfishly, and why they surround themselves with people who are just as introverted as they are.
That it was inspired by a Bret Easton Ellis novel shouldn’t be surprising, especially considering that it came from the same warped mind that came up with “Less Than Zero” and “The Rules of Attraction,” two other delirious character studies fueled by unattractive vices. Also like the other two, “The Informers” is set in the ’80s, an atmosphere that gives its characters all the madness they want. Ellis’s characters live in a world that’s at right angles with itself: Even they think it’s kind of extreme when, at a friend’s funeral, his mother concludes a tearful eulogy by playing a record by Pat Benatar.
It’s an all-star production that has lots of strong performances, which is appropriate for characters who are always competing for the center of attention. The fulcrum here is the storyline that focuses on Graham (Jon Foster), a college student who’s involved in an icy love triangle where every possible combination of the three winds up in the bedroom. He tries to talk about what he wants out of life with his girlfriend, Christie (Amber Heard), but she’s too caught up in her addiction to drugs and sex to really care. As for his boyfriend, Martin (Austin Nichols), he’s able to contain his grief: “What else is there?” he asks Graham. “You already have everything.”
Martin actually has a life that’s just as empty as Graham’s, but he seems more content with the meaninglessness he loses himself in. On top of getting to sleep with the wife of a rock star named Bryan Metro (Mel Raido), he’s also involved with Laura (Kim Basinger), the wife of a Hollywood big shot named William (Billy Bob Thornton) – at least he was, until she broke it off to reconcile with her husband. William seems sincere when he says that he wants them to be together again, except for the fact that he just can’t walk away from his girlfriend (Winona Ryder).
Meanwhile, a friend of Graham’s named Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci) goes to Hawaii with his father (Chris Isaak), who seldom goes anywhere without a glass of liquor handy. When Tim and his father ride in a limousine to the airport, their awkward dialogue sets the tone for a trip that’s pretty unpleasant.
The film takes a curious turn when it deals with a sociopath named Peter (Mickey Rourke) and the kidnapping scheme he forces his nephew Jack (Brad Renfro) to help him out with. It’s an interesting detour that has almost nothing in common with the rest of the movie, at least until Jack’s path coincides with Graham’s in a poignant scene, where they learn that their worlds aren’t that far apart from one another.
All of the performances here support the material pretty well, but it’s Basinger and Rourke who really sink their teeth into it. Although Basinger goes over the top in one of the final scenes, everything that the Thornton character does to her justifies it. As for Rourke, he gives his role the subtlety it deserves – not so easy when you’re dealing with a character who’s the weirdest of the bunch.
Everything that happens here makes the movie feel pretty hectic, but it has enough courtesy for its audience not to outrun it. In fact, the quietest parts of it turn out to be some of the best. Foster’s performance is probably the most mature one here, and he puts his character on a level that the others never reach. That Graham is a better person by the end is sadder than it sounds, though. It’s lonely at the top.