MRR Review: "Informant"

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A documentary on radical left-wing activist turned FBI informant, Brandon Darby.
3.5

MRR Review: "Informant"

Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 81 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 13, 2013
Directed by: Jamie Meltzer
Genre: Documentary

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005, many people came from all over the country to try to help. One of those people was radical anarchist Brandon Darby, who didn't trust government-run authorities such as FEMA to properly help the victims of the storm. He went down and by all accounts played an important role in helping get supplies and other forms of aid to the victims much more quickly than they would have had he not been there. He was hailed as a hero by many, but the bipartisan accolades didn't last for long.

In the aftermath of his leadership during the recovery efforts, Darby began to question his politics. Did he really want to overthrow the government, or was there a better way to do things? He slowly turned from a radical leftist to a conservative, embracing the then-emerging politics of what would eventually become the Tea Party. This huge turnaround in beliefs has led many to question his motives and whether he was ever really an anarchist or not. In "Informant," Darby reenacts some of the events that lead to his change in idealism and explains his new political stance in a series of new, never-before-seen interviews.

The film goes into detail about Darby's past as an FBI informant who turned in two men who were allegedly going to throw Molotov cocktails at police cars during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Pictures, archival footage, and a first-hand account of the proceedings from Darby are all used to show how this event helped change his politics for good. Once he embraced conservative ideals, he become a columnist for notorious conservative leader Andrew Brietbart and fully embraced a completely new way of thinking. The change from one extreme to the other is fascinating and entertaining, making "Informant" a very different kind of documentary.

Documentaries generally rely heavily on archival footage and interviews intermixed with recent interviews conducted solely for the film. When put together, these clips paint a picture of the subject of the documentary, which in this case is Darby. Rarely do documentaries produce reenactment footage in order to try and make the picture a little clearer. "Informant" dips a toe in the murky reenactment waters in an attempt to clarify the events that caused Darby to go from being a hero on the left to the darling of the Tea Party. To switch sides from the radical left to the equally radical right is a huge step, so director Jamie Meltzer uses reenactments to help explain the transition. Darby plays himself in the reenactments, showing some fairly impressive acting chops considering he has never before appeared on film in anything other than an interview.

If the subject of a documentary is a person, the focus of the film is usually on that person's accomplishments or history. Some may champion the subject of the film; others may take a much harsher approach, making the subject appear to be morally ambiguous or even downright bad. "Informant" falls somewhere in the middle, though it leans a little more toward painting Darby in a bad light. Darby is occasionally shown to be an egomaniac who is more worried about his legacy and image than the political principles that he writes about on Breitbart's site. Overall, he appears to be a good guy, especially considering how hard he worked to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. However, the film presents a lot of gray area, and both Darby and director Jamie Meltzer seem content to let the viewers decide for themselves how they feel about Darby and his politics.

Anytime a director lets the audience member decide whether a character is good or bad, it's a challenge of sorts. Even though Darby is a real person and not a character, he often seems like a character in the film, especially when he is taking part in the reenactment segments. It's a huge departure from normal documentary tropes and makes the film feel entertaining and refreshing in a way that documentaries rarely do. It's also a fairly big departure from the normal fare that Meltzer is known for, which could signal big changes for the young director. Whether Meltzer continues upon this path or not, "Informant" stands as his best work to date, and shows potential for better things down the line.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5