Review: ‘The Informer’ (2020), starring Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Common, Ana de Armas and Clive Owen

November 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joel Kinnaman in “The Informer” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“The Informer”

Directed by Andrea Di Stefano

Culture Representation: Taking place in primarily in New York City, the crime drama “The Informer” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An ex-convict who’s become a confidential informant to the FBI gets caught up in a power struggle between the FBI, the New York Police Department and a drug kingpin when an undercover NYPD officer gets murdered during a botched drug deal.

Culture Audience: “Informer” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic and generic movies about drug smuggling and undercover investigations.

Clive Owen, Rosamund Pike and Joel Kinnaman in “The Informer” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

There are times when people watching a movie have to suspend disbelief when they have to think to themselves, “It’s only a movie,” because the world created in the movie is not supposed to be a reflection of the real world. But when a gritty crime drama like “The Informer” invests so much of the story’s credibility in trying to be as realistic possible, it’s fair to judge the movie’s merits on how well the movie depicts “the real world.” Although the “The Informer” has moments of action-filled suspense, too much of the movie looks recycled from other better-made films, and some of the scenes are almost laughably unrealistic.

Directed by Andrea Di Stefano, “The Informer” is based on the 2009 Swedish novel “Three Seconds” by Anders Rosland and Börge Lennart Hellström. Di Stefano, Matt Cook and Rowan Joffe adapted “Three Seconds” into the mediocre and cliché-ridden screenplay for “The Informer.” The movie changes the setting of the story (it’s Sweden in the book, New York City in the movie) but the premise is essentially the same: An ex-con who’s an informant tries not to killed in a dangerous double-cross game as he deals with law enforcement and criminals.

In “The Informer,” Joel Kinnaman plays Pete Koslow, a Gulf War veteran who spent time in the fictional Bale Hill Prison for killing a man in a bar fight while defending his wife Sofia (played by Ana de Armas) from the sleazy guy who was harassing her in the bar. Now a heavily tattooed ex-con, Pete (who has post-traumatic stress disorder) lives in New York City with Sofia and their 8-year-old daughter Anna (played by Karma Meyer). Pete has stayed out of trouble since his release from prison, but he has a secret: He’s a confidential informant for the FBI to bust a major drug ring that has been importing and selling fentanyl.

The Polish kingpin who’s the leader of this drug-dealing operation is Rysard Klimek (played by Eugene Lipinski), who’s nicknamed The General. Pete is an American of Polish descent who can speak fluent Polish, and most of The General’s gang members are also Polish. Therefore, Pete has been chosen to help the FBI in busting The General and his drug-smuggling crew.

Pete has been able to infiltrate The General’s gang and gain their trust. The person he is closest to in the gang is an impulsive hothead named Stazek Cusik (played by Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), who sets off a chain of events that will test Pete’s loyalties and put Pete and his family in possibly fatal danger. With Pete’s help, the FBI is ready to do a huge drug bust to arrest The General and his gang.

Pete has been working directly with FBI agent Erica Wilcox (played by Rosamund Pike), and they have meticulously planned how the drug bust will go. Erica has instructed the FBI to “go easy” on Pete when the drug bust happens because he is one of the FBI’s informants. Erica has assured Pete that during the drug bust, he will be taken away safely in an unmarked vehicle.

But things go horribly wrong. Unbeknownst to the FBI, the New York Police Department has been trying to bust The General and his gang too. And the NYPD sent an undercover officer named Daniel Gomez (played by Arturo Castro), who’s been using the alias Carlos Herrera, to pose as a major drug buyer from Mexico. Stazek tells a nervous Pete that there’s been a last-minute change of plans since this “new buyer” named Carlos Herrera has shown in interest in making a big purchase.

During the meeting with “Carlos,” an argument erupts, he reveals he works for the NYPD, and Stazek shoots him in the head. A stunned Pete knows this has completely ruined the drug bust that the FBI had planned for that night. And sure enough, the FBI calls off the plans, and Erica cancels the backup that was supposed rescue Pete. Meanwhile, Stazek and some of his cronies dismember the murdered NYPD officer’s body and throw it into the river at a nearby dock.

Erica’s corrupt supervisor Agent Montgomery (played by Clive Owen) blames her and Pete for the botched drug bust and wants to cut Pete loose from the informant program. Erica begs Montgomery to give her and Pete a little more time to set up another drug bust. Montgomery says that officially the FBI is done with Pete and can’t give her the authority to continue dealing with him. But unofficially, Montgomery tells Erica that if she still wants to pursue the drug bust with Pete’s help, she’s free to do so but she has to inform him of what she’s doing. However, if things go wrong again, she will be forced to take full responsibility and she’ll probably get fired.

Meanwhile, the General is furious over the botched drug deal that got a NYPD officer killed, and he says that Pete owes his life to Stazek. The General orders Pete to get himself arrested so that he can be incarcerated again at Bale Hill Prison, where Pete is supposed to take over the drug operation there. Pete tells Sofia about his secret life as an informant for the FBI and how he’s now being coerced to do what The General wants.

It’s around this time that Pete has a meeting with Erica and Montgomery, who tell Pete that he can redeem himself with the FBI if Pete gets the names of all of The General’s drug operators in Bale Hill Prison. And so, Pete and Sofia stage a domestic violence incident that sends Pete back to Bale Hill Prison faster than you can say “stupid plot development.”

Meanwhile, the NYPD is investigating the murder of Officer Gomez, whose partner Detective Edward Grens (played by Common) is on a personal revenge mission to catch the killer. At first, he suspects Pete of committing the murder. Detective Grens eventually figures out that Pete is an informant for the FBI, so he confronts Erica and Montgomery, who deny knowing anything about Pete, even though Detective Grens has uncovered video surveillance and other evidence that Erica has been in contact with Pete.

Detective Grens decides that the FBI is covering up something, so he makes it known that if the NYPD has to go to war with the FBI, so be it. Detective Grens eventually goes to Sofia (who owns an aquarium shop) to ask for her help, but she has a hard time trusting him. She tells Detective Grens that ever since Pete got arrested for that deadly bar fight, whenever someone has offered to help, the person ends up doing the opposite and Pete gets in more trouble.

And so, with Pete feeling pressure from the FBI, the NYPD and The General who all have their own agendas, this is how the movie sets up dilemmas for Pete on whom he should trust and whom he should betray. The scenes of Pete in prison have the predictable elements that have been seen in many other dramas with prison scenes. Unoriginal stereotypes abound, including typical violent fights between inmates; a corrupt corrections officer named Slewett (played by Sam Spruell), who’s in on the prison’s drug trade; and a prison chief name Warden Leinart (played by Matthew Marsh), who looks the other way at the illegal activities that he knows goes on in his prison.

One of the dumbest scenes in “The Informer” is when Pete makes a desperate phone call from prison to FBI agent Erica, who is officially not supposed to be in contact with Pete at this point in the story. Apparently, the filmmakers want viewers to forget or not know that all inmate phone calls in prison are recorded. Someone who works for the FBI should know this too. It’s unfortunate that the filmmakers have made this FBI agent look so inept.

During Pete and Erica’s phone conversation, Erica and Pete say enough incriminating things in the conversation that would expose their “secret” plans to people in the prison, which is crawling with corrupt corrections officers, and word would get back to Slewett, who’s working with The General. This phone conversation from prison would also then get Pete branded as a snitch, which could make the inmates turn against him too. But the filmmakers cover up this massive plot hole, which completely ruins whatever credibility this movie was trying to grasp.

And then “The Informer” just turns into complete garbage with a very unrealistic prison hostage scene where viewers are supposed to believe that the hostage taker, who is just one person, is able to hold off a small army of law enforcement officers (including a S.W.A.T team) that come to the rescue. The hostage scenes exist only so that the movie can have more violence, such as shootouts, an explosion and a gross-out scene where the hostage taker plunges a pair of scissors into someone’s ear.

Although Kinnaman’s role in the movie requires a lot of physical prowess, his character is the typical tough, brooding, misunderstood loner that we’ve seen so many times before in movies about ex-cons who become confidential informants. Pike’s Erica character is problematic because she’s supposed to be morally conflicted, but the reality is that this FBI agent is just incredibly incompetent. Owen’s Montgomery character is a stereotypical callous bureaucrat, while de Armas has yet another role as a “worried wife/love partner,” which is the type of character she has in a lot of her movies.

“The Informer” director Di Stefano and cinematographer Daniel Katz occasionally try to make the movie look a little artsier than most cheesy crime dramas of this ilk. For example, the scene with Sofia and Detective Grens in her aquarium shop is lit with the blue-ish glow of the aquariums, not by overhead room lights. It’s as if to convey that Sofia is untouched by all the grime and sleaze that has ensnared her husband. However, as much as this one scene was trying to show the beauty amongst all the corruption and violence, it’s still not enough to compensate for the shoddily written screenplay.

When the FBI or a big city’s police department (such as the NYPD) is trying to bust a large drug operation in an undercover sting, there are things that these professionals are trained not to do, so that they won’t blow their cover. And yet, the numskulls in “The Informer” do a lot of dumb things to blow their cover that no self-respecting law enforcement official or street-smart informant would do in an undercover investigation. “The Informer” is ultimately for people who just want to see some forgettable fight scenes and other mindless violence amid a lot of plot holes. This movie is not for people who want to see a compelling and well-written crime drama.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Informer” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 6, 2020. The movie was released in several countries in Europe and Asia in 2019.

Review: ‘Sergio’ (2020), starring Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas

April 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Senhorinha Gama Da Costa Lobo, Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas in “Sergio” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Sergio” (2020)

Directed by Greg Barker

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the world (Iraq, East Timor, Brazil, Cambodia, Indonesia and New York City), the dramatic film “Sergio” has a racially diverse cast (Latinos, white people and Asians) that tells the story of United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian who faced a life-or-death situation in 2003, when he was trapped in a bombed UN building in Baghdad.

Culture Clash: As a UN diplomat, de Mello dealt with many political and social conflicts, including the United States’ increasingly hostile relationship with Iraq after 9/11.

Culture Audience: “Sergio” will appeal mostly to people who like movies about international relations with a formulaic romantic storyline.

Ana de Armas and Wagner Moura in “Sergio” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In 2010, HBO premiered the documentary “Sergio,” which was about Sergio Vieira de Mello, a United Nations diplomat from Brazil who was the victim of a deadly 2003 bombing in Baghdad, Iraq. Greg Barker directed the “Sergio” documentary (which was nominated for an Emmy), as well as this Netflix dramatic version of de Mello’s life events that led up to the bombing.

Craig Borten wrote the “Sergio” screenplay, which is adapted from Samantha Power’s book “Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.” Several real-life facts were changed for the purpose of making the film more dramatic, so if viewers want a more accurate telling of the story,  then the documentary is the better choice. But if you want a fairly suspenseful drama with a romance at the center of the film, then this scripted “Sergio” film will be more to your liking, even if the movie isn’t likely to get any awards recognition.

The “Sergio” dramatic film begins with charismatic and intelligent Sergio (played by Wagner Moura) rehearsing a speech that he’s about to give as a welcome to new staffers at the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. He’s a UN high commissioner for human rights, and he’s in Iraq for a four-month mission as an independent mediator between the U.S. and Iraq.

According to the movie, it was a mission that Sergio didn’t have to take, but he couldn’t say no the people who asked him to go to Baghad, including his close colleague Kofi Annan, who was Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time. In his short time in Baghdad, Sergio has even accomplished the difficult task of meeting with shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who resisted having meetings with many other leaders. 

As he tries to prevent U.S. -Iraqi relations from deteriorating, Sergio’s goal is to work with the  U.S. while gaining the trust of Iraqis to give them back full control of their sovereignty. This isn’t the news that U.S. Presidential Envoy Paul Breme (played by Bradley Whitford) wants to hear. Paul tells Sergio in a dismissive tone, “We have our own plans.” And later, Paul tells Sergio what the U.S. position will be about the next Iraqi elections: “I’ve decided there won’t be any elections until we’re ready.”

Unbeknownst to Paul, Sergio has compiled a dossier that includes disturbing reports that the U.S. military has committed several human-right violations while in Iraq. Sergio is about to go public with this information, by holding a press conference on August 19, 2003, when tragedy strikes: A bomb goes off at UN headquarters (housed in the Canal Hotel) in Baghdad, and the explosion completely destroys the building. Sergio and his deputy administrator Gil Loescher (played by Brían F. O’Byrne) get trapped in the rubble, and are pinned from the hips down.

The rest of the movie consists of going back and forth between the frantic rescue efforts and Sergio’s memory flashbacks to various points in his life as a diplomat. There are so many flashbacks in the movie, people who prefer stories to be told in chronological order will probably dislike the very non-linear structure of the film. Many of the flashbacks aren’t identified by the year, but observant viewers can tell how far back the flashbacks are by looking at the color of Sergio’s hair—the less gray the hair, the further the flashback.

A major part of the these flashbacks is showing how Sergio met and fell in love with UN economist Carolina Larriera (played by Ana de Armas) three years before the tragic bombing. In real life, Carolina (who is of Argentinian-Italian heritage) was part of the UN team in Baghdad at the time, and she desperately searched for Sergio after the explosion. That search is depicted in the movie to maximum dramatic effect. There are multiple scenes of guards preventing Carolina from entering the danger zone, and she gets more and more hysterical.

The movie portrays Sergio and Carolina’s romance as if it’s, well, straight out of a movie. He first notices her when they’re both stationed in East Timor, and they happen to regularly jog on the same path. They have a “meet cute” moment when Sergio is out jogging, he outruns his bodyguard Gaby (played by Clemens Schick), and he happens to see Carolina again. She starts up a conversation with Sergio, and they flirt a little. Carolina tells Sergio that she knows who he is, but she refuses to tell him her name when he asks.

The next time Sergio sees Carolina, it’s at a UN meeting, and she tells him her name. He says he already knows about her because he “did his homework.” Later, Carolina tells Sergio that she did her “homework” on him too, and she knows he’s married. However, based on the sparks between them and the way they look at each other, it’s only a matter of time before they get together. Their first kiss is a very “movie moment,” since it’s outside in the rain, as they fall into each other’s arms and kiss passionately while getting soaked by the rain.

When Sergio and Carolina met and began their love affair, he was legally married but estranged from his wife, who raised their two sons (who are in their late teens/early 20s when this story takes place) in Geneva while he traveled around the world for his job. A flashback to when the kids were underage shows that Sergio was such a workaholic who didn’t spend much time raising his children, that he didn’t even know that his younger son is allergic to shrimp. It’s an embarrassing ignorance that upsets his shrimp-allergic son when Sergio and his sons have a rare dinner together at the home of Sergio’s mother.

Other flashbacks include Sergio’s diplomatic work in helping East Timor gain independence from Portugal. He and his UN colleagues were appointed by Portugal as interim government officials. Instead of imposing restrictions that would alienate the East Timor rebels, Sergio went out of his way to welcome the participation of the natives fighting for independence, including rebel leader Xanana Gusmão. As Sergio says in the movie, “We were sent here as overlords, but I really hope we can leave as respected colleagues.” It was a controversial decision that some of Sergio’s UN colleagues, including Gil, did not approve of at first.

While in East Timor (in a scene that looks very fabricated for the movie), Sergio and Carolina meet local women who work at a yarn mill. Carolina introduces Sergio to a woman who’s had the tragedy of her sons and husband being killed. When Sergio asks her what she wants that will make her happy, she gives a poetic answer about wanting to have the ability to fly and fall from the sky like rain and remain in the place where she belongs. It’s a line that Sergio repeats when he’s at the presidential palace in Indonesia and he’s asked a similar question.

Another flashback is of Sergio, Gil and a female colleague being taken at gunpoint to Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s reign in the 1970s. It turns out Sergio and Ieng know each other from their days at the Sorbonne, so they get along just fine, and danger for the UN trio is averted. When Sergio and Gil reminisce about that experience several years later, Gil jokes, “I have a title for your autobiography: ‘War Criminals: My Friends.'”

Although Sergio is a well-respected diplomat, his workaholic ways have taken a toll on his marriage. Carolina, a sassy Harvard graduate who doesn’t want to be a trophy wife, confronts Sergio about making a commitment to her when Sergio tells Carolina that he wants every UN assignment of his to have a clear and defined plan. “I don’t like indefinite assignments,” says Sergio.

Carolina, who doesn’t want to be kept hanging in their relationship, essentially tells Sergio that she doesn’t want to be in a relationship with him unless he can also look at the relationship with a clear and defined plan. It’s a turning point when they realize that they want to be fully committed to each other.

There’s a lot to like about “Sergio,” especially for people who might not be familiar with the real people who inspired the movie. However, some of the scenes seem just a little too corny and contrived, especially those involving the Sergio/Carolina romance. Sergio’s unresolved marital status no doubt caused a lot of messiness and turmoil in real life, which is very much glossed over or ignored in the film. (It’s not mentioned in the movie, but Carolina’s claim that she was Sergio’s common-law wife led to a very protracted legal battle.)

Despite a hokey tone to the romance, Mauro and de Armas have convincing chemistry together, and they do a good job with the dialogue that they were given. In the film, Carolina says she’s doesn’t want to be an “appendage” to a powerful man, but she’s written in the movie as exactly that. If Carolina is supposed to be a brilliant economist, it’s not shown in the film, which mostly has her following Sergio’s lead or going into full-anxiety mode when she’s trying to find him in the post-bombing rubble. It’s really the same type of “worried wife or girlfriend” role that’s a cliché in movies that are set in war zones.

The film also took liberties with some facts (as many “inspired by a true story” movies do), by having Gil in the East Timor scenes. In real life, Gil was never in East Timor, as noted in the film’s epilogue. The epilogue also mentions that the way Gil was written in the movie (he’s portrayed as a very sarcastic skeptic) was as a composite of the real person and several members of Sergio’s A-Team.

The film’s editing has some notable moments, such as when the blast impact of the bombing on Sergio is juxtaposed with the blast of beach waves enjoyed by Sergio in his beloved Arpoador, an idyllic region of Brazil. However, the jumbled timeline in “Sergio” makes the film a lot sloppier than it needed to be. “Sergio” ultimately leaves the impression that it’s a trite portrayal of a richly layered and complicated life that is presented much better in the “Sergio” documentary.

Netflix premiered “Sergio” on April 17, 2020.

2020 Golden Globe Awards: presenters announced

January 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the organization the votes for the Golden Globe Awards) and Dick Clark Productions (which co-produces the Golden Globes telecast) have announced the presenters of the 2020 Golden Globe Awards ceremony, which takes place January 5 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills California. NBC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Time/5 p.m. Pacific Time.

Here are the presenters in alphabetical order:

  • Tim Allen
  • Jennifer Aniston*
  • Christian Bale*
  • Antonio Banderas*
  • Jason Bateman
  • Annette Bening*
  • Cate Blanchett*
  • Matt Bomer
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Glenn Close
  • Daniel Craig*
  • Ted Danson
  • Ana de Armas*
  • Leonardo DiCaprio*
  • Ansel Elgort
  • Chris Evans
  • Dakota Fanning
  • Will Ferrell
  • Lauren Graham
  • Tiffany Haddish
  • Kit Harington*
  • Salma Hayek
  • Scarlett Johansson*
  • Elton John*
  • Nick Jonas
  • Harvey Keitel
  • Zoe Kravitz
  • Jennifer Lopez*
  • Rami Malek*
  • Kate McKinnon
  • Helen Mirren
  • Jason Momoa
  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Amy Poehler
  • Brad Pitt*
  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph
  • Margot Robbie*
  • Paul Rudd*
  • Wesley Snipes
  • Octavia Spencer
  • Bernie Taupin*
  • Charlize Theron*
  • Sofia Vergara
  • Kerry Washington
  • Naomi Watts
  • Rachel Weisz
  • Reese Witherspoon*

*2020 Golden Globe Awards nominee

Ricky Gervais is hosting the show. Tom Hanks will be receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement, while Ellen DeGeneres will be getting the Carol Burnett Award, which is given to people who have excelled in comedy. The Carol Burnett Award debuted at the Golden Globes in 2019, and Burnett was the first recipient of the prize. Dylan and Paris Brosnan (sons of Pierce Brosnan) will serve as the 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors.

Click here for a complete list of nominations for the 2020 Golden Globe Awards.