I see from a quick search of posts here that I published the trailers to “The Informer,” another “undercover in the joint” thriller, but never got around to reviewing it during its brief theatrical run.
Guessing that was because of how similar it is to the Nikolaj Coster-Waldau thriller “Shot Caller,” which I wasn’t nuts about and which came out not that long before it.
But the trade offs in leads — Joel Kinnaman of “Suicide Squad” instead of “Game of Thrones” hunk Coster-Waldau — is more than offset by a sparkling supporting cast, which in “Informer” includes Rosamond Pike, Common, Clive Owen and a pre-fame poodle-haired Ana de Armas. The violence is more visceral even if the plot is loopier, with a third act that’s just “out there.”
The players, the hopeless situation and one killer scene make this the better movie to me. Let me see if I can make my case.
Kinnaman plays an ex-con/informant who is setting up a Polish mob kingpin in New York when things go sideways on the day of the “meet.” Even though Peter Koslow was careful enough to sew in his own “wire,” even though he did his part, listened to his FBI handler (Pike) when she said “Stay cool and we’ll be all right,” and followed protocols, an NYPD cop got killed.
He didn’t kill him, and even though the fact that the cop stumbled into their sting thanks to a bumbling punk relative of “The General” (Eugene Lapinski), Koslow is the one who owes the mob “a debt,” the one who owes the Feds their sting. He’ll just have to arrange that from inside Bale Hill, the prison he’s been sent back to.
Wife Sofia (de Armas) and daughter? Won’t the Feds whisk them away? And the warden, won’t he have our recidivist inmate’s back for his snitching? Not if Pike’s character’s boss (Owen) has any say.
And then there’s the NYPD cop (Common) whose undercover drug buyer was murdered. He’s annoyingly relentless, and in ways that seem to benefit neither the Feds nor the Koslows.
The intrigues are breathless and the violence so in your face that it takes a seriously off-key third act to make this one more a mixed bag than it was setting up to be.
Kinnaman’s terrifically poker-faced. He may be playing a combat vet, a “sniper” (lazy-assed screenwriters), but he’s no superman stuck behind bars with his mental; and physical inferiors. Skinny Kinnaman makes us fear for Koslow’s safety and wonder if he has the wits to wriggle out of this death trap.
A killer moment involves a hanging. Other blasts of violence are just as intimate, even as the “How do we get him outta this?” part of three tag-team screenwriting falls to pieces in the finale.
Worth a look? This cast guarantees it, and one adrenalin-rush hanging scene sells it.
Rating: R (Strong Violence|Pervasive Language)
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Clive Owen, Ana de Armas, Common and Eugene Lapinski.
Credits: Directed by Andrea Di Stefano, scripted by Matthew Cook, Rowan Joff and Andrea Di Stefano. A Vertical release on Netflix.
Running time: 1:53