Echoes of John Ford’s “The Informer” hover over “The Informant,” which poses a similar moral dilemma in Belfast during the early 1980s. With Timothy Dalton toplined as an IRA man who informs on his friends — a tough, no-nonsense role far from his James Bond persona — pic stands a decent chance of finding theatrical exposure outside North America, where it’s destined for pay cable. It should also have a fair career in video bins.
There are some flaws in Nicholas Meyer’s screenplay, most significantly an open, freeze-frame conclusion that disappoints, given what’s gone before. Nevertheless, Jim McBride’s assured and involved direction gives the material a needed edge.
It’s 1983, and Gingy McAnally (Anthony Brophy), an IRA member, has temporarily escaped the conflict in Belfast by heading south, where he lives in a trailer. But he’s tracked down by former colleagues who tell him there’s no quitting the army; as the only man left who knows how to use a rocket launcher, he’s assigned the task of assassinating a British judge, and he reluctantly agrees, afraid that his wife, Roisin (Maria Lennon), and children will be harmed if he doesn’t.
As the getaway car speeds from the scene of the assassination, Gingy is recognized by Lt. David Ferris (Cary Elwes), a British army officer. Gingy is quickly arrested and grilled by the formidable Chief Inspector Rennie (Dalton), a brutal officer with an understandable hatred of IRA assassins.
Rennie’s ruthlessness is quickly evident when he puts out the false story that Gingy was informed on by a 13-year-old boy; the IRA quickly reacts by “kneecapping” the unfortunate youngster, giving Rennie the satisfaction that the kid’s future career as a terrorist is now limited.
Rennie also puts the pressure on Gingy, telling him he faces a minimum 25-year prison sentence unless he names names. After much soul-searching Gingy agrees, and key members of the local IRA leadership are arrested. Gingy and his family are moved to a supposedly safe house, though Roisin is angered and humiliated by the fact that her husband is a tout, even though, as he says, he did it for her.
Rest of the film explores the pressures on Gingy from both sides, with Frankie (Sean McGinley), who has assumed local IRA leadership after the arrests of his superiors, determined that Gingy will never testify in court.
Gingy’s dilemma is potently presented: He’s a loser whichever way he moves. Through him, scripter Meyer, working from Gerald Seymour’s book “Field of Blood,” and director McBride explore the wider problem of the Northern Irish conflict, at least as it was 14 years ago. Helmer injects a great deal of tension into Gingy’s plight, though Meyer seems rather too evenhanded in his approach, deliberately showing good guys and bad guys on both sides of the political fence.
Though in many ways the drama unfolds with a deliberate, relentless momentum, there’s a major gap in the narrative when Roisin’s decision to leave Gingy isn’t shown but simply referred to later.
The film fails to ring true in some details — the staging of an IRA booby trap is unconvincing, and it’s hard to believe that order would not have been quickly restored to a British courtroom filled with noisy IRA sympathizers. Despite these flaws, “The Informant” is undeniably gripping, and is superbly shot by McBride’s regular d.p., Alfonso Beato.
Brophy is extremely good as the tormented tout. Dalton is eminently hissable and seems to relish his role as the tough cop, while Lennon, in a relatively small part, sharply evokes the anguish felt by the wife of a traitor. Elwes has a rather underdeveloped role as the British army officer who befriends Gingy and tries to help him, while Simone Bendix makes an impact in a brief appearance as Elwes’ English girlfriend.
Production values are solid, with sharp editing by Eva Gardos and authentic-looking production design by Mark Geraghty. Use of music by the Pogues is most effective, especially the opening-credit rendition of “Dirty Old Town,” which sets the mood of the film with a bang.