Producers: Daniel Cummings, Eric Rebalkin, Michelle O’Reilly, Sean Patrick O’Reilly, David Fleming and Michael Oblowitz   Director: Michael Oblowitz   Screenplay: Michael Kaycheck, Michael Oblowitz and Brooke Nasser   Cast:  Mel Gibson, Dominic Purcell, Nick Stahl, Kate Bosworth, Erik Valdez, Russell Richardson, Jon Lindstrom, Meadow Williams, Michael Kaycheck, Arielle Raycine, John Cassini, Dianna Carmacho, Shaquan Lewis and Jonah Bubbico   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: D

This ultra-gritty cop melodrama is a weird encomium to a dying detective who plots to game the system in order to provide financial security not just for the wife and son he will leave behind but for the wife and daughter of the informant of the title, who is also terminally ill.  The scam he pulls off with the connivance of his ambivalent partner is justified, it’s suggested, because street cops put their lives on the line every day for far less than they deserve.  While an ordinary taxpayer might find this message somewhat dubious—after all, the windfall comes out of the pockets of people like him—the makers seem to consider it incontestable, and even have Mel Gibson on hand, playing the senior investigator of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, to enunciate it at the close.

The picture is set in New York City in 1995, but was actually shot in Vancouver and Las Cruces, which must have presented quite a challenge for production designer Jacqueline Miller and cinematographer Christopher Squires—one that, frankly, they failed to meet.  The exterior scenes are never visually convincing, and the prevailing murkiness, presumably intended to conceal that, does them no favors. 

But the drab look of the movie is the least of its problems; it’s the cluttered narrative and clumsy execution that are fatal.  In many respects the real protagonist is Detective Mike Thornton (Nick Stahl, pretty colorless), who—as we see in the openings credits—is a veteran of the Gulf War, now the junior partner of Detective Tom Moran (Dominic Purcell, grim and impassive); he’s also the occasional narrator, close to Tom’s family, his wife Anna (pallid Kate Bosworth) and young son Mark (amateurish Jonah Bubbico). Together Tom and Mike sometimes bend the rules to bring down the violent drug gangs spreading crack in their precinct, but all is forgiven because they get results in a dangerous, violent neighborhood.

Unfortunately, Tom receives a diagnosis of terminal stomach cancer from his doctor, and frets that his death will leave Anna and Mark in dire straits.  Just by chance while drinking with Mike in their favorite bar, they have a conversation with their retired colleague Frank (a broad turn from John Cassini), who complains of his meager pension and says that had he known of the added money his family would have received had he died in the line of duty, he would have arranged to do so. His rambling is exposition the audience needs, of course, but it also gives Tom the idea that drives the rest of the movie: he’ll arrange for Carlos (over-the-top Erik Valdez), his C.I. who’s just revealed that he’s dying of AIDS, to shoot him.  In return Mike will see to it that Carlos’ family gets a bit of cash, too. 

Naturally things don’t work out as planned.  Carlos shoots Tom, but goes berserk, and Mike has to defend himself by killing him.  And while Anna finds that Tom’s pension will be supplemented by money from special funds, the entire fishy business attracts the interest of new IAB officer William Lerner (inexpressive Russell Richardson), who suspects that something is amiss and investigates aggressively despite the misgivings of his superior, Lieutenant Kevin Hickey (Gibson, in full gruff mode).  Lerner’s right, of course, even if he’s wrong in believing that there’s something between Mike and Anna.

The rest of the running-time is consumed by a cat-and-mouse game between Mike and Lerner, with the former tormented by the part he played in Tom’s plan and the latter determined to unmask him in the name of justice (he’s an idealist, you see—in contrast with the pragmatic Hickey).  The way their dance is brought to a close is dramatically feeble, but at least it has the virtue of wrapping things up relatively quickly, a nice departure from the generally plodding pace set by Oblowitz and editors Jeff Katz and Robert A. Ferretti, which is interrupted only occasionally by some ineptly staged action sequences—notably the shoot-out with Carlos and a gratuitous confrontation between cops out on stakeout and a motorcyclist armed with a couple of automatic weapons. 

One other technical defect in the movie must be noted—the intensely irritating score by Roy Hay and DJ Muggs, which sounds like someone just rhythmically pounding away on drums.  It’s almost constant, and is sometimes so loud and poorly mixed that it nearly obliterates the dialogue (the latter not much of a problem, given its quality).

Confidentially, this “Informant” is pretty terrible.