You might remember Joel Kinnaman from the AMC series “The Killing” or as Gov. William Conway in “House of Cards” or as Rick Flag in “Suicide Squad,” but the Swedish-American actor has the presence and the chops to be a much bigger star, as he proves in the sprawling and violent crime thriller “The Informer.” As a Special Ops veteran turned convicted killer turned FBI informant who finds himself playing both sides of the coin with danger closing in all around, Kinnaman is reminiscent of a younger Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood with his magnetic antihero cool. It’s a powerful performance in a film that veers this way and that and sometimes loses focus but is ultimately an effectively solid actioner.
“The Informer” is another one of those movies that lingered in delayed release limbo for years. It was filmed in 2017, but despite an A-list cast that includes Rosamund Pike, Clive Owen, Ana de Armas and Common, it’s just now seeing the light of day in the United States. Director Andrea Di Stefano has fashioned a slick, good-looking, gritty and dark action/drama that plays like a lower-budget companion to the likes of “The Departed” and “Donnie Brasco” and “American Gangster.”
Kinnaman’s Pete Koslow is a rough-hewn, not-to-be-messed-with, brooding figure who was convicted of manslaughter after killing one of the thugs threatening his wife in a bar. The FBI has arranged for Pete to get early parole in exchange for Pete becoming an undercover agent/informant on a series of narcotics busts in New York City. When one such bust goes tragically sideways, resulting in the death of an undercover New York City cop, the all-powerful Polish drug lord known as “The General” (Eugene Lipinski) determines Pete has to take the fall and go back to prison, where he can handle certain criminal enterprises for the The General from behind bars — and get this: The FBI thinks that’s a great idea as well. Pete will be working for The General but he’ll really be working for the FBI, and if all goes well, he’ll be sprung from prison and free to reunite with his wife and daughter and start a new life. What could possibly go right?
Shew! That’s a lot going on right there, yes? Fortunately, “The Informer” only rarely wades too deep into the murky waters, thanks to a solidly constructed screenplay by Di Stefano, Matt Cook and Rowan Joffe, and strong performances from the outstanding cast, who are often asked to give little speeches designed to keep us up to speed on everything that’s happening.
Ana de Armas has more to do than most long-suffering wives/girlfriends in movies like this, and she’s a ball of curly-haired fire as she fiercely defends her husband and daughter. Rosamund Pike expertly captures the ambivalence of FBI Agent Wilcox, who is Pete’s connection with the Bureau and has come to like and respect him but has orders to burn him if things get too complicated. Clive Owen is a hiss-worthy villain as Wilcox’ superior at the FBI, who’s as ruthless and amoral as The General himself in pursuing the end game, collateral damage be damned. And the ubiquitous Common ads his usual gravitas as an NYPD officer who responds to the sanctimonious feds by telling them he has an army of officers who will gladly go to war with their field office if that’s what it comes to.
“The Informer” drops a few story threads along the way — just when we’re building up a healthy movie-hatred for the General, he virtually disappears from the story — but the climactic scenes when all hell breaks loose are gripping and enthralling, and in the midst of all the blood, sweat and tears, Joel Kinnaman is kicking ass and taking names in true action movie-star fashion.