Formerly known as Gibraltar, The Informant is a movie that arrives dripping with promise. Just a cursory inspection of its cast list and credits make it seem as instantly exciting as bouncing downstairs on Christmas morning, clapping your eyes on pile upon pile of presents under the tree, and spying one particular behemoth of a bundle with your name clearly and unmistakably scribbled on the gift tag.
For starters, there’s its killer pair of leads. On the one hand, playing Marc Duval, a Gibraltar-based bar owner-turned-customs snitch, is none other than Gilles Lellouche, an actor who along with his ‘Tell No One’ co-star François Cluzet and Hidden’s Daniel Auteuil stands as one of the great everymen of modern French cinema.
Then, as Redjani Belimane, the ambitious young cop who hooks Duval into a shady world of double-dealing, is Tahir Rahim, who with his astonishing breakthrough performance in Jacques Audiard’s ‘A Prophet’ announced himself as a potential superstar in the making. And speaking of A Prophet, the script for The Informant comes courtesy of one of the writers on that movie, Abdel Raouf Dafri.
Dafri’s screenplay draws its inspiration from real-life events – like just about every big screen drama that seems to come out these days, from American Hustle to Monuments Men to recent Scandinavian diving thriller Pioneer (and even, going back a bit further, Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!).
The film is based on the memoir of Mark Fievet (the man on whom Lellouche’s Duval is modelled), and it approaches its story using his version of events: essentially, that he was pressured by his paymasters to deliver them bigger bounties, only for inter-agency skulduggery to subsequently leave him hanging out to dry as a wanted drugs smuggler.
Whatever the truth of Fievet’s narrative, Dafri and director Julien Leclercq struggle to deliver scenes which feel either convincing or immersive. Take Duval’s very first stab at being a snitch: having been inducted by Belimane, he simply stands at his bar, cranes his neck and, in less time than it takes to say “Sacrebleu! That was fast!”, he’s cottoned onto an apparent drug deal involving tattooed moron Bobby Sims (Aidan Devine).
Ah, Bobby Sims. Running through much of the movie with all the disagreeability of a tapeworm, he’s emblematic of the laughable nature of too many of The Informant’s stereotypes… sorry, characters.
We’re talking chumps like John Wexford (John Ralston), an Irish crime-boss with the hair of A.C. Grayling and all the innate menace of Chris de Burgh. Numbskulls like Liam (Christopher MacCabe), a snarling ogre with ants in his pants. Even the extras get in on the shambles; one British cop blows his single solitary line as spectacularly as an on-the-verge-of-victory chess grandmaster dropping his cavalry twills and defecating onto the board.
The French-language drama is of a higher standard, while still hardly being riveting. Duval’s increasingly rocky relationship with wife Clara (Raphaëlle Agogué), for instance, is the standard stuff of any sprawling crime saga.
Slightly more interesting is the affair which blossoms between Duval’s flaky sister Cécille (Mélanie Bernier) and his new best mate, drug baron Lanfredi (Riccardo Scamarcio, blandly smug in a clichéd role). Why, it’s almost a strong enough set-up for a doubtless hilarious comedy movie, My Mafioso In-Law, possibly starring Matthew Perry and Bob “The Man Don’t Give a F**k” De Niro.
The Informant is attempting entry into a crowded field: that of the true-crime drama, where the guns, drugs and truckloads of testosterone guarantee a certain level of audience. However, so ubiquitous are these films, any fresh outing needs to deliver on just about every level in order to stand out – and that’s something Leclercq’s movie conspicuously fails to do.
The Informant is out now in the UK.