Movie review on ‘The Informant’

Juan Barquin/ Staff Writer

Brandon Darby’s story starts off rather innocently in the documentary “Informant,” with a mistrust of the government that led him to becoming a sort of white savior for much of post-Katrina New Orleans. “I’m trying to foment radical social change. That’s what we’re trying to do,” he says, working to stop racists with guns, rebuilding houses and becoming a symbol of the sheer power of radical activism.

Almost instantly, after traveling to Venezuela and seeing the state of turmoil there, Darby’s opinions on his activist ways make a full 180 turn. It is here that his life takes him to the FBI, where he becomes an informant for them and his story really begins.

“Informant” gets its point across pretty early on–the moment that Brandon Darby says, “As much as it seems crazy that a revolutionary would work with the FBI at some point, under the particular circumstances, I don’t think it’s that crazy.” From that point on, the documentary tries its hardest to both prove and disprove that.

Jamie Meltzer’s film is presented through a series of interviews, some archival footage, and some very messily woven together reenactments. It’s clear Meltzer has Errol Morris’ work in the back of his mind, but his reenactments are subpar compared to a master like Morris. With Darby himself poorly starring in these sequences as a younger version of himself, the lines between real and fake are often blurred in a way that they shouldn’t be.

What “Informant” gets just right is the juxtaposition of Darby’s interview footage with that of his detractors, including ex-friend and co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, Scott Crow. Crow’s recollection of him and reactions to some of Darby’s misguided ideas make for some of the film’s liveliest moments. Some of the comments that are tossed about aren’t exactly flattering, with a couple clearly calling him an “ego-maniac who was pretty full of himself.”

That being said, Meltzer doesn’t seem to have much control over his own project or his subject. Considering Darby has been involved in multiple documentaries about his past, a great portion of “Informant” seems just plain unnecessary. The film’s editing is jittery at times, longing to be a reflection of Darby’s paranoia and frustration, but it makes for an unpleasant audience experience.

It’s hard to get behind a character like Brandon Darby, a man whose actions and narcissism border on sociopathic, which makes it hard to get behind a documentary about him. “There’s a lot of people justifying things in this story,” one interviewee says with no qualms, and that’s a perfect assessment of Meltzer’s film and the way it presents Darby.

“Informant” never chooses between praise or contempt for its subject, presenting a fairly unbiased perspective, something to be admired in a documentary. Alas, it instead loses itself in all the conspiracy, manipulation and outright lying it presents, leaving one to realize they will never really care about or understand Darby by the time the credits roll.”

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