Rating: ***

One of the most curious items nearly hidden among this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival lineup was the filmic adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, The Informers. Sure, the critical reception to big screen adaptations of Ellis’ popular novels have been less than favorable (aside from the neo-cult-classic “American Psycho”), but the film’s well-known cast and famous source material seemed as if they would have generated a bit more buzz at this year’s festival. Then again, at a festival that places much emphasis on foreign, less-commercial films, perhaps “The Informers” was simply not a great fit.

The adaptation of Ellis’ controversial books to the screen has become quite the trend in past years, starting with the early ’90s adaptation of Ellis’ debut novel, 1987’s nihilistic Less Than Zero. Ellis helped adapt The Informers with script partner Nicholas Jarecki; the two work to translate Ellis’ vision of a hedonistic ’80s-era Los Angeles when the only important things for the trust-fund set were money, sex, drugs and pop culture… and well, maybe times haven’t changed so much. Ellis is able to truly tap into that ’80s consciousness like no one else, and “The Informers” is a great representation of just that.

The film provides a rather disturbing look at the entangled lives of (mostly) well-off Los Angeles residents. The narrative incorporates an array of fairly unlikable characters, some of the upside of the Los Angles lifestyle and those at the bottom of the barrel: There is the movie studio executive (Billy Bob Thornton) who is sleeping with the insecure newscaster (Winona Ryder), while his wife (Kim Basinger) is having an affair with her son’s friend (who is also a male prostitute). There is a drug-addicted rock star that seems to be also addicted to underage teens, and as well as a man who abducts children (Mickey Rourke).

The film also portrays a group of teenagers who live for nothing but getting high, sleeping around and generally just living life on the edge. The underlying theme of the entire film seems to be the realization of all of these people and the dangers of the lives they are leading and the repercussions of their actions – the immense shadow of the A.I.D.S. epidemic and the anxiety it evoked during that decade are clearly represented in Ellis’ screenplay.

“The Informers” was the most-criticized and overall hated film at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Though I enjoyed the film, I will agree that this film seems unfinished and incomplete. As I watched “The Informers,” I kept thinking that they must have left out or deleted some important scenes, because the film did not flow right. After reading all of Ellis’ books this film just seemed to be lacking that feeling of danger and deliberate obscenity.

The films cast is a well-rounded true Hollywood cast. Basinger gives a great performance as the vulnerable and emotionally numb wife and mother. She is so convincing and powerful in her scenes, this role was perfect for her. Mickey Rourke and Chris Isaak (who plays a deadbeat father) both give incredibly powerful performances in roles that seem to be written just for them. I also want to acknowledge the film’s sets, costumes and cinematography deign fit the ’80 Los Angeles look flawlessly.

Being an Ellis fan, I was a little disappointed, compared to some of his other works. I did enjoy the film for the most part but I don’t think many people will understand it. In true Ellis fashion the film really has no plot and other than the fact life is dark and depressing. I am curious to see what will happen when the film is released in April, but until then I suggest reading the novel and then perhaps renting the movie when it comes out.