Thursday, November 21, 2013

Movie Review: Informant

Directed by: Jamie Meltzer.
Written by: Jamie Meltzer.  

Every person interviewed in Jamie Meltzer’s excellent documentary Informant has  very strong feelings about Brandon Darby. Here is a man who started off a grass roots political activist on the left – who helped out in New Orleans after Katrina, when the government response was woefully slow – and stayed on there for years, as a co-founder of Common Ground, an organization meant to help the mostly poor, mostly black residents rebuild their communities – and protect themselves. The police didn’t like him – they thought he was dangerous – and many of the people who worked with him at Common Ground found him to be egomaniacal – and a little too extreme in his beliefs, and his seeming hunger for “Revolution”. So, of course, it comes to a surprise to all of them – even those who didn’t like him, that Darby ended up becoming an FBI Informant – first turning in someone he believed to have ties with overseas terrorism, and then turning in a group of screwed-up, incompetent kids who built Molotov cocktails (out of stuff they bought at Wal-Mart), to use at the Republican National Convention. Strangely, Darby is now a popular speaker to the Tea Party movement, and is hated by those on the left.

No matter what you think of Darby – that’s a hero or a traitor or anything in between – it’s pretty much impossible to deny he’s got a huge ego – something the numerous interviews he gives in the movie makes fairly clear – as does the fact that he goes along with Meltzer in “re-enactments” of everything he does. No matter what Darby does – whether it’s working with Common Ground or the FBI – it seems like his top priority is always himself. He is fully invested in seeing himself as a hero, and sees nothing inconsistent with anything he has done.

The truth is though, that Darby is a mess of contradictions, and so it’s appropriate that movie is as well. While for much of the running time, you would be forgiven in thinking that the film agrees with much of what his former colleagues – who view him as a traitor to the cause – think of him, Meltzer also gets some rather telling admissions for them in the film’s late stages – admitting they don’t think blowing up property is a violent crime, and sometimes it’s wholly justified. And you can blame Darby for turning on the undeniably young, stupid, naïve protesters if you want to – but they did in fact build Molotov cocktails, and did have an ill-thought out plan to deploy them. They claim they weren’t actually going to use them – and that may well be true – but they did build them, and did get caught with them, and wouldn’t someone who was planning on using them still deny they were after they were arrested? Darby may have manipulated them, and made them do things they may otherwise not have done, but we’ll never really know for sure.

Informant is no less fascinating because it doesn’t ever express a final opinion on Darby – in fact it’s perhaps more interesting because of it. The movie implies that perhaps no final opinion can be formed about him, because he is impossible to pin down. He has an ego, he looks out for himself, and always feels he’s in the right. He also has a tendency to wildly swing from one direction to another, embracing extremes on both sides. I’m not sure even Darby knows who he really is.

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