Crime thrillers are a dime a dozen, with audiences likely to find a handful of disposable entries stuffed at the bottom of a local bargain bin. That isn’t to say the genre lacks an innate charm, with its best entries offering a pulsating tension that throttles forward an unpredictable narrative (Good Time and Widows are some of my recent favorites). The latest in the genre’s lineage The Informer doesn’t amplify its tried and true framework, but the film compensates by offering a sturdily crafted experience.
The Informer follows Pete Koslow (Joel Kinnaman), an ex-convict serving as an undisclosed informant for Agent Wilcox (Rosamund Pike). In his efforts to bust a Polish gang, a New York police officer is killed, leading to Detective Grens (Common) hotly following Pete’s trail. The gang’s leader decides to send Pete to back his old prison to push drugs, leaving him in a desperate situation for survival as he tries to figure out who he can trust.
As the premise would leave you to believe, The Informer generates a web of revolving plot threads that could be convoluted in the wrong hands. Writer/director Andrea Di Stefano (who collaborated on the script with Matt Cook and Rowan Joffe) properly allows these interwoven arcs to develop and work in tandem, economically trimming the fat by thrusting audiences straight into its dog-eats-dog world. Where most low-budget efforts like this would try to sprinkle in constant action to excite audiences, Di Stefano trusts his material and allows its engaging twist and turns to be the central focus. The script is self-aware in its core pursuit of genre entertainment, with Di Stefano’s sure-handed direction pushing the pace forward in a fittingly relentless manor.
It helps that The Informer is propped up by a strong veteran cast. Joel Kinnaman imbues enough humanity to make his straight-laced lead pop on the screen, carrying the weight of the character’s conflicted state on his sturdy shoulders. Few actors are able to infuse a cooler than cool presence into roles like Common, delivering some much-needed gravitas to what would be a thankless role in other hands. Whether its Rosamund Pike, Clive Owen, or Ana de Armas, each performer plays the material straight and enhances it through their sheer ability.
The Informer rarely takes a major misstep, but it also fails to spice up its customary design. Di Stefano’s no-nonsense approach leads to a serious dearth of character development, with the script never quite maximizing the emotionality of Pete’s duplicitous lifestyle (the work of Michael Mann is a great example of how this can be done in an equally profound and subdued manor). The film also is lacking its own voice behind the camera, with a standard-issue shot selection rendering a product that’s more akin to a well-produced TV pilot.
What The Informer lacks in innovation, the workmanlike thriller more than makes up for with its sound craftsmanship.
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