Complexity in crime dramas too often devolves into dreary complication, making for a narrative where the sheer amount of stuff happening is meant to make up for the two-dimensional characters at its core. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Amazon’s UK import Informer, a crime thriller that, despite not being a six-episode adaptation of the hit ‘90s song of the same name from Canadian rapper Snow, delivers a smart, captivating series that’s worthy of a binge-watch.
The series is the latest in a string of solid UK crime dramas making their way to the US via one streaming service or another. Informer is in the same category as the Agatha Christie adaptations on Prime Video, the upcoming The ABC Murders and last year’s Ordeal By Innocence, as well as Netflix’s Bodyguard and Collateral. And while this drama is mostly akin to the likes of Collateral, particularly its politically-tinged procedural narrative, it also bears some thematic resemblance to HBO’s Emmy-winning miniseries The Night Of, in terms of its depiction of how institutions like the law can so easily take advantage of people who find themselves on the margins of society because of the color of their skin.
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The series follows Raza (Nabhaan Rizwan), a British-Pakistani man who winds up in legal trouble after being picked up for drug possession when he brings a young woman suffering an overdose to the emergency room. Writers Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani don’t attempt to moralize Raza’s dalliance with party drugs, and nor do they attempt to obfuscate the reasons why good deeds don’t go unpunished. The premiere episode, ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ avoids holding the audience’s hand, allowing viewers to figure out for themselves whether or not a cop would have frisked Raza in the hospital had he been white.
What follows is a morally complex story about the lengths those charged with keeping their country safe from terrorism will go to get the job done, and how often those efforts conflict with a person’s civil rights. As such, Informer takes an interesting approach to its story, dealing with several narrative threads at once as Raza is recruited (i.e., coerced) to become an informant by Gabe Waters (Paddy Considine), a former undercover cop who is now working for the Counter Terrorism Unit in London, and Holly Morten (Bel Powley), an ambitious newcomer to the squad who soon discovers aspects of her partner’s dark past may not be wholly forgotten.
The series is deliberate without being slow, taking its time to weave its entertaining procedural elements in with some worthwhile and fascinating explorations of its main characters inner lives. Throw in a flash forward that involves Gabe’s wife, Emily (Jessica Raine), as a potential victim of a mass shooting (that’s largely hinted to be connected to Gabe’s endeavors with one or more of his confidential informants) and you’ve got an engrossing thriller that doesn’t play down to its genre trappings.
It’s hard to say who’s the star of the show, as Informer is well-acted from top to bottom, with each character wholly owning the scenes they’re in. Rizwan is striking in his debut, playing Raza with a welcome sense of ease, even as character begins to feel the walls closing in around him. Powley portrays Holly with an interesting sort of detachment, which is a little confounding at first, but helps make for a memorable dinner with Gabe and Emily.
Considine unsurprisingly plays well against whomever his scene partner is, but particularly when he’s offering a brusque but knowing bit of advice to Holly. At times he seems like a time bomb waiting to go off, and others he’s strangely empathetic, especially to his CI’s, whom he informs Holly are never “you’re friend,” only to later tell her their role necessitates them becoming their informant’s only friend. Those kinds of exchanges add to the show’s rich and layered world, one that also includes a terrific performance from Roger Jean Nsengiyumva as Dadir Hassan, the drug-dealing brother of one of Gabe’s informants who turns up murdered because he might have information on a potential terrorist plot in London. Raza strikes up a friendship with Dadir while spending the night in jail, and it’s that relationship that engenders him to the audience, while also endangering him as soon as he becomes an asset for Gabe.
What Informer does well is to know when to go all-in on its central plot and when to put it on the back burner. Hour-long episodes move back and forth between traditional cop stuff — following CCTV cameras, interrogating suspects, and the occasional bit of undercover work — but it also finds time to just sit back and watch as Gabe and Emily’s marriage threatens to fall apart, largely because neither can let go of the past, no matter how badly they want to put it behind them. That Gabe may be hiding a dark secret — his chest and back are still emblazoned with fascist tattoos from his time undercover — would normally be a sign the show has bitten off more than it can chew, but Informer demonstrates a commitment to both plot and character so early on that this potentially serious wrinkle in who the audience thinks Gabe is becomes an absorbing point of interest.
At just six hours long, Informer can be a slightly long binge-watch or something you’ll want to dole out over a few days. It will likely work better as the latter, as each episode is fairly dense and has no problem approaching 60-minute mark. But even at that length, the episodes never feel overlong or tedious. Instead, the series just continues to ratchet up the tension on both sides of the law, to make for a truly smart, captivating thriller.
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Informer streams on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, January 11, 2019.