In Less Than Zero, author Bret Easton Ellis (The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho) established his cred as a sharp, cynical observer of 1980s ennui, borrowing Elvis Costello’s song title and burrowing into the flashy emptiness.
With his novel and now film The Informers, similar themes continue apace, now with the increased clarity of hindsight. Ultimately, the film withers under the weight of its pretensions, posturing, and lack of a consistent perspective, but it also takes us on a perversely fascinating ride.
Ellis’s original 1995 mosaic of a novel takes place in one week in 1983 Los Angeles, cutting across the lives of infidels, rock stars-“The Informers” are a band, in flux and in existential and/or sexual crisis-and other debauched specimens, and this film version embraces its peculiar genre with rancid relish. We know we’re in for a dark encounter from the outset, from the early scene of a crash outside a Hollywood party and a dizzy-not fawning-aerial shot of the Hollywood Sign.
Australian director Gregor Jordan, whose previous credits include the offbeat, Heath Ledger-starring “Western” Ned Kelly, adopts an approach here that combines morbid intrigue and cool detachment. That may be the proper attitude for a film about another time and place, and possibly another planet. Jordan aims for a Robert Altman-esque weave of tales and characters, la Nashville or Short Cuts, but can’t quite achieve it. We might more easily write off the film, were it not for slick production values and the cast, including the bright, hip likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, and Mickey Rourke-the latter three being actual players on the landscape of ‘80s pop culture.
Hedonistic abandon and festering despair are in store. In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, a pale, sick, and lovely bikini-clad woman is perched on the fog-enshrouded beach, like Dirk Bogarde at the end of Death in Venice, absent-mindedly moaning, “I need more sun.” “There is no more sun,” says her friend, a tad ominously. Alas, life here is still less than zero.