The Informer review: The bare bones of an action thriller

Joel Kinnaman stars as an ex-convict who is sent back to prison to bring down a drug lord

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 29 August 2019 12:34
The Informer - Trailer 2

Dir: Andrea Di Stefano. Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Clive Owen, Common, and Ana de Armas. 15 cert, 113 mins

There are a hundred other films just like The Informer. Soon, there will be a hundred more. With its generic title, its smattering of recognisable names (Clive Owen, Rosamund Pike, and Common) and its promise of dirty dealings, there’s enough here to tempt a decent amount of filmgoers into buying a ticket. Not that they’d expect anything more than the bare bones of an action thriller and, in that respect, The Informer at least delivers.

The film’s hero is Pete Koslow (Joel Kinnaman), a loving, emotionally wounded family man who would do anything to protect his wife (Ana de Armas) and daughter. In fact, as the film goes to great pains to explain to us, he’s only a convicted felon because he stepped in to defend his gal from a lecherous bar patron. Now out on parole, he’s required to play snitch for an FBI agent (Rosamund Pike) determined to crack down on a Polish mob and one of its most notorious drug lords, The General (Eugene Lipinski). After a sting operation leaves an NYPD cop dead and the FBI in a panic, Koslow is asked to do the unthinkable: leave his family behind and go back to prison. To muddy the waters even further, Koslow’s also the target of police officer Grens (Common), who won’t stop until he discovers who put a bullet in one of his men.

Loosely based on the Swedish novel Three Seconds, and with its action transplanted from Stockholm to New York City, The Informer features an unnecessarily complicated web of conflicted loyalties and loose motivations. It’s almost as if the film’s screenwriters – director Andrea Di Stefano, Matt Cook, and Rowan Joffe – have become convinced the density of a film’s plot also dictates its depth. Sure, a lot of things happen, but there’s no meaning or weight to any of it. Character development is thrown immediately out of the window, as each player is simply dropped somewhere along the scale of moral purity (it’s Koslow’s wide-eyed and feverishly dedicated wife who, of course, remains the most innocent of them all).

The weakness of the film’s script never feels more evident than when it’s in the hands of Pike and Owen (as her unscrupulous boss), who share most of their screen time. They do their best to grunt and grimace their way through a series of tense confrontations, but you’re left only with the reminders of what they were capable of in other, better roles. Here, all they’ve got to rely on is “tough guy” talk. In fact, that’s all the film really consists of. The script’s been peppered with the word “f**k”, alongside a few racial epithets, so that the audience really knows that we’ve hit the mean streets of New York.

Characters love to speak in code, even when there’s no reason for them to be so secretive. That’s just what characters in action thrillers are meant to do, after all. Di Stefano even plays it fast and loose with The Informer’s violence. It’s never consistently brutal to really make an impact, but there’s enough of it there to keep things on the right side of gritty. The film simply doesn’t trust its audience to understand what’s going on at any given moment. Take, for example, when Koslow is enlisted to help dispose of the cop’s body. He has blood on his hands now, metaphorically speaking, but the film also has to show it in a literal sense to make sure the point’s been made. In the end, it’s nothing more than a box-ticking exercise created to convince everyone that this is a serious, adult thriller. And, sure, The Informer might fulfil those most basic of requirements, but anyone looking for substance will be left sorely disappointed.

The Informer is released in UK cinemas on 30 August

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