The only relationship between The Informant (Sunday, March 15; 8 to 9:45 p.m.; Showtime), the cable adaptation of a Gerald Seymour novel about Northern Ireland in the eighties, and The Informer, Liam O’Flaherty’s novel and John Ford’s film about the 1922 Irish Rebellion, is one of assonance. In The Informer, we ended up sympathizing with Victor McLaglen, even though he sold out an I.R.A. buddy for pieces of British silver, because we learned something about how means corrupt ends. In The Informant, while director Jim McBride and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer lay claim to evenhandedness and paler shades of gray, we are browbeaten into believing that only the English are innocent – if, perhaps, dangerously so.
As Gingy, Anthony Brophy has already done five years in prison for terrorist activities, and “gone south” to recover his humanity. But the I.R.A. requires his rocket-launching skills to assassinate a Belfast judge, and blackmails him into obedience by threatening his family – after which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Timothy Dalton) and the British military (Carey Elwes) coerce him into testifying against his I.R.A. bosses. It’s a fine, if odious, role for Dalton, and an engaging one for Elwes, who befriends Brophy, with awful consequences. And, in a Dublin tricked up to look like bombed-out Belfast, the movie spirals downward into sickening complicities.
I yield to no one in my loathing for terrorists, child-killers all of them, whatever their politics. From Gulag and death camp to Shining Path and Hamas; from Pol Pot and pink-cheeked bombers of abortion clinics to the secret police in Jakarta or Jerusalem, their cold, invariable, and contemptuous purpose is to dominate, humiliate, commodify, and dispossess; to create, as in the nightmares of Kafka and Beckett, mazes in which the rest of us are lab-rat matters of interpretation. But add up the atrocities in The Informant, and you discover that they’re almost all on the Republican side. It’s the I.R.A. that first blackmails war-weary Gingy; that orders the murder of a judge; that tortures, with kicks and cigarette burns, a 14-year-old boy wrongly suspected of “touting”; that rigs a motorbike to kill Elwes; that first bombs a “safe house” to frighten Gingy’s wife, Roisin (a splendid Maria Lennon), and then rapes her. Irish Brophy says to British Elwes, I kid you not: “You think the world is a fine and decent place because that’s what you are.” This is what the British have been telling themselves, about themselves, for 800 years in bloody Ireland, and it’s bilge.