Movie Reviews of FIRE IN THE BLOOD and INFORMANT by Howard Casner

Fire in the Blood, a first movie written and directed by Dylan Mohan Gray, is one long irony of a documentary.  It’s about the immense power the pharmaceutical industry has and how they use that power in deciding who gets medication and who doesn’t, with the determining factor being how much money the pill-pushing companies can make.  In other words, the movie is about an industry devoted to saving people’s lives, but spends most of its time killing them.   It may not be murder, but I sure don’t know how someone can say it’s not manslaughter.


The subject of Fire in the Blood focuses mainly on the AIDS epidemic as it affected third world countries, especially India and countries in Africa.  People were dying, dying by the millions, because they couldn’t afford $15,000 a year for medication that could be sold for a dollar a day and the pharmaceutical companies would still break even.   They were dying because governments wouldn’t allow the importation of generic drugs.  They were dying, basically, because no one gave a shit about a bunch of non-white people living in areas of the world that most Westerners could do just as well without.  No one gets out of this with clean hands.  Its villains include often absurd patent laws; the WTO who chose industry over people; the U.S. and other Western countries, none of whom cared much since they had insurance to pay for it all and who had their own successful movement to lower medication prices.


And it all ends with a pyrrhic victory.  The activists won their battle to bring drug prices down to a level where most people could afford them.  But it came at a cost.  The pharmaceutical companies aren’t stupid.  They basically traded their reduction in price for even tighter laws for future drugs.  So the next time something like this happens (and it will; as Albert Camus says in his book The Plague, the only meaning to the plague is that it will return), then the world will have to go through the whole thing again and millions will die so a few companies can make a fortune off of their deaths.


This is not an easy movie to watch.  It makes you angry.  It makes you furious.


But this is a movie you should see.



Informant is also a documentary, this time written and directed by Jamie Meltzer.  It revolves around Brandon Darby, a left wing activist who became an FBI informant and then a proselytizer for the tea party movement.   The description sounds fascinating and the movie is never boring exactly (though my mind did wander here and there).  It’s certainly an unusual journey and one does get caught up in how it all happened.


At the same time, I have my doubts that Informant works as well as it should.  And the main reason is that by the time it’s over, I couldn’t quite figure out why anybody wanted to make a documentary about this guy Darby in the first place.  I’m not convinced that Meltzer sold me on his pitch.


I think the initial problem is that Meltzer directs and writes his movie as if everyone already knows who Darby is and would automatically be fascinated by him.  But I’ve never heard of him so he is not of automatic interest to me; he’s not a given.   So when the movie starts with Darby talking to the camera (he talks to the camera a lot, a lot—can you say “mirror queen”) about his early life and how he became an activist during the aftermath of Katrina, half way through this section, I began to wonder why I’m being told all of this and what it has to do with the price of tea in China.


It takes forever for the other shoe to drop.  And when it does, it happens after his return from a trip to South America in order to make contact with the socialist movement there and his realization that these people are perhaps not the nicest group of people in the world and that maybe being a left winger isn’t all it’s quite cracked up to me.  He returns almost having a nervous breakdown.


After that, he became involved with the protest movement aimed at the RNC convention.  But he has become distrustful of his co-agitators and is afraid that they may have mayhem on their minds, so he becomes an informant for the FBI.  Now here I’m ready for the big revelations to begin; how Darby betrayed everyone he knew and helped the FBI make massive arrests or other dirty deeds.  Instead he ended up informing on two small timers, unimportant nonentities,  that made a few Molotov cocktails they were going to chuck at some empty police cars parked in a lot.


Now I’m not saying these two doofuses didn’t do anything wrong or that I think they should have been allowed to throw the cocktails.  In fact, in many ways, though my heart goes out to them, I do kinda think they pretty much got what they deserved.   And exactly what went down is not exactly clear.  It’s pretty much a he said/he said scenario.  But as one interviewee put it, and probably most exactly, Darby didn’t entrap the two men, but they wouldn’t have made the cocktails if he hadn’t been there.


My point is basically, well, is that it?  Is that all Darby did?  Betray a couple of poor schmucks who ended up getting a few years in jail?  And he then used that event to become a minor celeb in the tea party talking tour (it is amusing, though, how every time he talks about the incident he seems to Munchausen it up a notch or two)?  I mean, I was really expecting something meaty, something major.


Instead, we have a character study of someone whose goal seems to be to try to get as much attention as possible for himself, no matter how little he deserves it.  And it sort of seems that Meltzer may have walked into that trap just as easily as the two cocktail revolutionaries did.