Informant is great if you have 90 minutes to spare and don’t mind having more questions at the end than you did at the beginning of the movie.
If you’re looking for answers as to who Brandon Darby really is, or what the motivations behind his turning in two young men suspected of planning to bomb the Republican National Convention really were, then this movie will not be a profitable use of time. In fact, if you do have questions about the story behind civilian turned civil informant Brandon Darby, I suggest reading Diana Welch’s article “The Informant” published in the Austin Chronicle in 2008. It gives four times the information in ¼ of the amount of time as does Jamie Meltzer’s Informant.
Another possible reason for reading Welch’s article is that the she explains Darby’s back-story, which Informant does not. Informant assumes a level of audience-awareness, and then builds the plot based on this assumed knowledge. But I’m speaking in vague terms here. Let me give an example for the sake of clarification — it’s hard to give spoilers for a film that relies on viewers knowing the plot in advance. Darby says that it was radical of him to stay in the lower 9th ward after hurricane Katrina. He says that it was a defiant act for people to sleep in their houses overnight. But no one explains why. No one reveals that it was “radical” because it was actually illegal as state legislators had passed a law preventing people from living in their homes at night (to prevent the spread of disease and protect residents from “looters”).
Another problem I have with Meltzer’s approach to the material is that although he includes other individuals’ viewpoints, which reveals an attempt at finding some semblance of truth, he doesn’t include the whole truth. From the film you will glean that Lisa Fithian was an activist who had some role in the Common Ground Collective. You will also learn that Fithian, to put it lightly, was not a fan of Darby’s — but you won’t be given an idea as to why she felt this way. Is it the way Darby ran Common Ground that left a bad taste in Fithian’s mouth? Did she maybe make a romantic move toward the man, and rebuffed, developed for him a distaste? Or maybe the two just never hit it off? The movie leaves these questions unanswered, but not in a “cliff-hanger” way. And not in a “we-don’t-tell-you-because-you-don’t-need-to-know” kind of way either. More in a way that makes us wonder if the filmmakers decided on their own answers to these questions before turning on the camera.
Welch’s article doesn’t obfuscate these lingering questions, illustrating that there are answers to be had. (Darby’s and Fithian’s interactions weren’t limited to the CGC as seems the case in the film.) I found it quite odd to learn that Fithian was actually involved in the RNC. This prompted a number of new questions in my mind: Could Darby’s motive for joining the undercover operation have been to take down the convention because of Fithian’s involvement in the right-wing? This is just one of many instances in which the movie gives accurate, but partial, information. It may be called Informant, but it is anything but.
Informant is available for digital download from Cinedigm.