Published Aug 08, 2013By most accounts, a documentary that focuses on an egomaniacal liar can be grating for audiences to sit through, if not handled with the sort of distanced and calculated perspective of someone like Werner Herzog. The very idea of giving such a person a soapbox to spew his/her crap induces nausea: no one wants to hear it.
Jamie Meltzer's Informant examines Brandon Darby, a radical-activist-turned-FBI-informant who's been both vilified and deified. From the very start of the film, Darby is seen sitting in front of the camera, preparing to speak to Meltzer as he fidgets and toils over how he will be positioned. It's when he stands up in a huff to take a break that we realize there's something "off" about this man.
This government-hating community organizer started out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, with the forming of grassroots community organization Common Ground Relief, and quickly became a hero of post-Katrina relief. As he witnessed various social injustices, he quickly grew to dislike all levels of authority and spoke out on behalf of the victims.
For all of the good he was apparently doing, there was a dark side brewing, one which revealed intense arrogance and an unwillingness to discuss his plans with others, choosing to act out with little foresight. A prime example was his impromptu trip to Venezuela, where he planned to meet with Hugo Chavez, in the hope of shaming President Bush into action. The meeting never happened, but the Venezuelans did try to have Darby meet with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which helped shape his conservative views.
The story continues, with Darby narrating his tale in front of the camera, often with the aid of on-screen recreations of key moments from his past. We soon learn that the FBI became interested in him when Darby ratted-out a Palestinian activist, which eventually led to him having his own handler.
Through the FBI's urging, Darby infiltrated a "terrorist" group that was in opposition to the Republican National Convention, where he personally contributed to the making of Molotov cocktails and subsequently reported the group to the FBI, leading to the arrest of Brad Crowder and David McKay.
Informant takes a wild turn as Darby is provided a platform to continue sharing his side of events. As his former acquaintances and other expert commentators from various points on the political spectrum are afforded the opportunity to chime-in, an intricate web of contradictions unravels. Informant evolves into an 80-minute film about perspectives and access to truth in a scenario where no one really knows what actually happened.
It's blatantly obvious through the various talking head interviews with Darby that Meltzer doesn't like the guy. He makes no effort to conceal the off-camera antics of the man and there are often conversations from behind the camera that serve to provoke Darby. While this tinkering normally would be frowned-upon in the world of documentarians, it forces Darby to show his true colours. However, using Darby in the various re-enactments as an actor opens up a discussion of its own: if Darby can act his way through these recreations, who's to say he hasn't been acting all along?
There are many questions raised throughout the film's 80 minutes, with most calling into question the legitimacy of the subject and the government. With Darby now viewed as a patriot by the Tea Party, there's no doubt he believes he is a hero.
Whether or not that's a valid self-opinion is left for the audience to decide. (Kinosmith)