'The Informer': Film Review

Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
Convolutions abound in double-undercover crime flick.

Joel Kinnaman plays a snitch forced to enter prison for a mission in Andrea Di Stefano's crime pic co-starring Rosamund Pike, Common, Clive Owen and Ana de Armas.

A clench-jawed movie about a decent guy who's been forced to infiltrate a gang, then maneuvered into an even deadlier masquerade, Andrea Di Stefano's The Informer is a solid crime flick whose heart rate never rises to a point commensurate with the many layers of danger its eponymous protagonist faces. Led by Joel Kinnaman, whose career in English-language movies still hasn't produced a vehicle as suitable as Sweden's Easy Money series, Di Stefano's follow-up to Escobar: Paradise Lost boasts a surprising level of supporting-cast talent but doesn't make the most of them.

Kinnaman plays Pete, an ex-con whose moral status remains somewhat unresolved. He may not really have deserved to be sent to prison, which would mean the FBI is exploiting him by supporting a parole in exchange for his services. But he takes to his cover job — running drugs for a gang of Polish immigrants in New York City — so easily, it's hard to view him as much of a good guy. In any event, his innocent wife (Ana de Armas, wasted in a conventional bystander role) suffers the anxiety of being married to a double-dealing mobster while trying to keep their daughter (Karma Meyer) in the dark.

Having worked his way up the ranks within the gang, Pete is about to deliver the evidence that will lock up its leader, "The General" (Eugene Lipinski). But just before that happens, a fellow drug runner kills an undercover cop while Pete's in the room — ruining the operation while drawing the attention of the NYPD. That cop's supervisor, Detective Grens (Common), takes to the case doggedly, making things happen with a speed that is less plausible than it is convenient for the screenplay.

That's especially true later, when Pete reenters jail. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First Pete has to suffer the wrath of his FBI handler, Agent Wilcox (Rosamund Pike), who unfairly blames him for what's happened. She in turn is pressured by her boss, Montgomery (Clive Owen).

The feds start talking like they're ready to cut Pete loose and end their deal with him. Then they realize they can take advantage of a rather dubious plan The General hatches: He pressures Pete to agree to violate his parole terms, go back to prison and start smuggling drugs in on a massive scale. (The most eyebrow-raising part of the scheme is the idea that cons will buy the narcotics on credit, then be released en masse and pay off their debts by becoming loyal soldiers in the General's army.)

Now stuck in a corner of the corner of the corner he was already in, Pete says goodbye to his family and goes back into lockup. His instructions from Wilcox are presented as if they make perfect sense. But skeptical viewers may conclude they rely on the same kind of implausible clockwork-precision of unpredictable events that doomed the earlier operation. Needless to say, once Pete is in an environment where he's even less in control than he was earlier, things don't go perfectly. And to put it mildly, the feds don't have his back.

Though it hardly feels too short at 113 minutes, the film is disappointingly sketchy in its handling of Pete's second stretch inside: There are rival inmate factions, corrupt guards, et cetera, but each beat in this part of the film plays to a specific plotting need, with no time left to create a persuasive atmosphere. While the script bounces from the cops to the feds to the cons and back, it fails to take us to that Donnie Brasco sweet spot in which the psychological pressures of being In Too Deep threaten to crack our hero, whether somebody gets a shiv into him or not.

Instead, the final act favors brawny action over mere tension, boiling into an impromptu escape attempt in which, for once, expecting everything to go exactly how you think it will pays off.

Production companies: The Fyzz Pictures, Thunder Road Films
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Clive Owen, Common, Ana de Armas, Karma Meyer, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Eugene Lipinski, Arturo Castro
Director: Andrea Di Stefano
Screenwriters: Matt Cook, Rowan Joffe, Andrea Di Stefano
Producers: Wayne Marc Godfrey, James Harris, Basil Iwanyk, Robert Jones, Mark Lane, Erica Lee
Director of photography: Daniel Katz
Production designer: Mark Scruton
Costume designer: Molly Emma Rowe
Editor: Job ter Burg
Composers: Brooke Blair, Will Blair
Casting director: Colin Jones

R, 113 minutes