Sunday, August 23, 2009

Let Me Take You Down

so, where on earth does one start with a review of the long in the making, subdued if not suppressed eventual release of the film version of The Informers? going back to the beginning is a good a start as any, i guess. sorry, then, if this review gets rather long and cumbersome!

the book

the book itself remains something of a mystery. whilst the most common interpretation is that it is a series of slightly linked short stories (Bret Easton Ellis, the author, sees it this way), many others argue that it's a novel. if you hit the jacket notes of Ellis' books, for every reference to it as a collection of short stories you will find one saying that it's a novel. go figure. i seem to recall reading that collections of short stories tend not to sell anywhere near as well as novels; if that's the case then it would certainly explain why his publisher was happy, if not delighted, to let people assume that it was a novel.

i read "it" when it came out in the mid 90s. i don't recall returning to it, but remember it well enough. it's as darkly disturbing, macabre and outrageously funny as all his other works; no surprise because as ever we get characters popping up from his other novels.

set in early 1980s LA (bar a trip to Japan and "the islands"), it was as good a read as the first three novels from Bret Easton Ellis, and certainly better than the two which have thus far followed.

and that is as far as i can present anything without giving much away - be warned, for there are *** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

making it into a film

now this is where it starts to get tricky. funded presumably by the hope of cashing in on the (very much appreciated) 80s revival going on, Bret Easton Ellis and Nicholas Jarecki set about writing the screenplay, with Jarecki lined up to film it. by all accounts the script pretty much covered the entire book of The Informers. the producers for no confirmed reason (most assume it was to try and move it away from another controversy like the adaptation of American Psycho) got rid of these two and brought in someone called Gregor Jordan to make it. he, it seems, removed great chunks of the screenplay (including, most bewilderingly as we shall see below, the entire vampire plot thread) and turned it into what he thought would be a better movie.

the knock on effect was the predictable one when this sort of thing happens - conventional critics saw it as a way to knock the film without having to pay attention to it, the cast "distanced" themselves from the project and Bret Easton Ellis, whilst not slamming it, has made comments along the lines of "the bits i did that are still in are good".

the omens, then, were not particularly good. hey, though, this is Bret Easton Ellis - there's no way i wasn't going to watch an adaptation of one of his works.

the film

the film of The Informers smacks you in the face pretty early on to make sure that you are paying attention, and for good measure keeps giving you a slap throughout the duration to make sure you're still with it.

to address the concerns around the book-to-screen adaptation as well as give the plot, the film covers a time period (not specified, a week or a month it would seem) of the lives of various people living, or if you will going through the motions of life, in Los Angeles in 1983. to help keep everything aligned and in LA as much as possible, the story of the vile rock star Bryan Metro is moved from Tokyo (Discovering Japan in the book) to LA, with only the In The Islands segment of the book departing from this location.

the mechanisms deployed to link all of the characters together - in particular the references to Bryan Metro being in LA - make a cohesive story of the various plot threads. it's not for me to assume or presume on the intentions of the great Mr Bret Easton Ellis, but methinks he clocked that, whilst writing the script, his short stories would indeed have worked as a rather more fleshed out novel.

now, to list the various characters and what they do strikes me as a bit of a waste of time - if i did that, you'd have the whole book, story and film. the characters are exceptionally shallow, hollow and of an astonishing ambivalence towards life, morality or convention. they're not rebels, don't get me wrong - they are bankrupt and vile. they are, however, given considerable depth and detail, as would be standard from the novelist. part of the humour of his novels, and indeed a large chunk of the appeal of them, is that you are never sure why Bret Easton Ellis chooses to lavish time on these characters and more or less cherishes them. either he is deliberately giving flesh to the hollow as part of his parody, or he really does admire and envy their ambivalent, Babylonian lifestyle of excess.

as mentioned, the cast appears to have "distanced" themselves from this project, with one or two claiming to be "embarrassed" by it. this is rather bewildering, because whatever gaps in straightforward storytelling there may be from the rather minimalist slant taken from the narrative are covered rather well indeed by some of the finest acting performances ever given by the impressive cast list. the ensemble cast might have limited time within the 90 or so minutes of the movie, but they do make it all count.

Winona Ryder, for a start, is either better than you have ever seen her in a movie, or at the least better than she has been for a good long time. As the "elder actors" of the film, Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger are brilliant. They, as the role models for the decline of their children and their circle, give note perfect performances. If Billy Bob was really "embarrassed" about being in the project and this is him just slumming it, well then, that's how he should approach all his roles.

applause too for Chris Isaak. often relegated to the part of "another singer that thinks he can act", he gives some substance to a character that is story and script wise defined as "drunk, divorced, rich".

remember all the wild, raving reviews Mickey Rourke got for his turn in the rather average film The Wrestler? they should perhaps have been lavished here for his outstanding performance as the deeply unpleasant Peter.

when it comes to playing down and out, deadbeat vile characters that have some perplexing and inescapable charm that leads one to follow them, Rourke when given the right parts does it better than most (Angel Heart, anyone?), perhaps rivaled in the modern era by Sean Penn alone.

now i must confess i knew nothing about Brad Renfro before news came out that he had died not long after making this film. after now seeing him in this film as Jack, well, it most certainly is a loss to us movie lovers. Renfro plays a simple aspiring actor working as a doorman. he is one of the few characters, if not the only character, not introduced to us as already morally bankrupt. it's impossible, in particular as he is related to the aforementioned Peter, to evade the darkness around him and the rest of the story, but he does at the least put up a moral fight and does take a stance.

after i have reminded you of the *** POSSIBLE SPOILERS ***, let's get on to the oddest part of this film which is a "reconstruction of a script by Bret Easton Ellis who had reconstructed a collection of his own stories". that would be the casual dropping of the vampire storyline. very odd indeed - the image pictured above is clearly a legacy of that line, but in the film as it is it has certain other, distinctly more unpleasant, connotations.

as HIV and AIDS seeps into the storyline of the film (with there every now and then being the suggestion that the characters are responsible for the spread of the disease, sometimes in a starkly plausible manner), it really is rather peculiar that the vampire thread didn't remain as some sort of metaphorical or symbolic take on this. i suspect that this is what Bret Easton Ellis would have intended since he highlighted the exclusion of the vampire character more than anything else, but i suppose we shall never know. to my knowledge no one has yet hit on the rather obvious idea of linking vampires to HIV (they are, after all, both blood related), and this film would have struck me as the perfect platform. oh well.

what the film lacks in the designer violence of the book and most of the author's other works it does, some of you may very well be pleased to learn, make up for in the rather generous presence of flesh. Amber Heard, in a role that was rather bewilderingly going to be played by no less than Ashley Olsen, seldom if ever has any clothes on in the film. this is a rather good device - her frequent undressed state becomes as bland and uninteresting as the lives the characters lead, all explicitly and ruthlessly shred of any pretend meaning.

so, do i recommend the film? yes, kind of. as you're watching it there's a great sense of "what on earth is going on here", but as soon as it's finished your mind tends to dwell on it for a good deal of time. if you appreciate some good, solid acting performances and are prepared to witness empty, meaningless people drift down the spiral, then this film is for you. for Bret Easton Ellis fans, it's not quite the disaster some are heralding it to be; then again it is not the glorious and magnificent adaptation with Rules Of Attraction got either. fans of this author have grown used to not getting much out of him, as each new book seems to take longer and longer to produce. grab the chance to see this, then, on the off chance that it's another few years before anything new comes from him.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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