A fascinating piece of nonfiction psychological portraiture, Informant tells the story of Brandon Darby, a former radical activist who made his name in the post-Katrina chaos of New Orleans, only to outrage much of the same community by later becoming a FBI informant and, under questionable circumstances, helping seal harsh criminal indictments against two young protestors at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The only film with interview access to Darby since his public confession, Informant connects and succeeds as both a sociopolitical potboiler and a case study in unreliable narration. The film starts a bit slowly, but charts Texas native Darby's intense reaction to the government's bungled Katrina response, during which he headed to the Big Easy and co-founded the progressive grassroots relief organization Common Ground. While possessing a strong anti-authoritarian streak, Darby also had problems with the horizontal leadership hierarchies of activist groups; he seemed to want to make all the decisions himself.

The particulars that put him on a path toward government mole are a bit muddled and, in the grand scheme of things, not terribly important, but the portrait that emerges of Darby is of a lonely guy who'd survived an abusive childhood, and was driven by a desperate desire to be known for something big. When he was given even small doses of validation and emotional support by FBI handlers, it helped exponentially fertilize a sense of self-importance already within him, which in turn created a series of circumstances whereby he likely goaded younger activists who looked up to him into crossing an already blurry line of criminality. The fallout of the case is bizarre, with Darby now a Tea Party hero and active speaker on the right-wing political circuit, for having foiled an "anarchist plot" he helped foment.

Director Jamie Meltzer makes the unusual but engaging choice of introducing a couple atypical elements into his production, playing Darby portions of interviews that contradict his version of events, and also staging tense but at times subjective recreations starring his subject. The result doesn't always provide the clearest picture of events from a chronological perspective, but interviewees across the political spectrum help lend credence to a reading of Darby that is, oxymoronically, sympathetic and judgmental: that of a big-hearted but big-headed guy whose ability to read right and wrong is enormously persuadable.

Some of the questions Informant raises — including that of a paranoid government security state driven to create crimes to solve — are expansive and scary, but Meltzer's film has an all-too-human heart, which is what ultimately makes it compelling. Informant opens this week in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7. For more information, click here to visit the movie's website(Music Box/Lucky Hat Entertainment/Filament Productions, unrated, 81 minutes)


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