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What is ‘The Informer’ Based on?

March 12, 2020
4 min read

Andrea Di Stefano’s ‘The Informer‘ is a gripping crime drama that dives right into the dizzying depths of New York’s dark underbelly. The film centers around an undercover informant who is caught in the gritty underworld of Polish Mafia in the city, and is under threat of being exposed as a mule. While the film’s premise may lack originality, it serves as an effective genre film especially with the unsettling tension it builds with its assorted narratives.

What separates ‘The Informer’ from other snitch movies in the genre is the intensity with which it treats its characters, and the panic it infuses into their lives. The film weaves a complex web of secrets as it brings together the Polish mob, NYPD and the FBI. It, then, places the titular figure of the “Informer”, Pete Koslow, played impressively by Joel Kinnaman, as the spine of the narrative, as he finds himself caught in the crossfire between the opposing sides.

Koslow is an ex-convict who works undercover as an informant for the FBI. His job is to infiltrate the Polish mafia’s drug trade in the city and help the feds take down the General. But as a sting goes out of control, an NYPD officer is shot dead, and things take a complicated turn for Koslow.

Pete Koslow is forced to return to the Bale Hill Prison in order to protect the lives of his wife and daughter, and keep himself from being exposed. Soon enough, he realizes there is no one he can trust, and devices a plan to escape both the mafia and the FBI. Given the premise of the crime drama and the way it explores the gritty underworld of New York, it is natural to wonder what inspired it. Well, we come bearing answers. So read on to find out.

Is ‘The Informer’ Based on a True Story?

No, ‘The Informer’ is not based on a true story. Instead, it is adapted from a novel titled, Three Seconds, originally called, Tre Sekunder, which was written by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellström. Roslund and Hellström are a Swedish crime-writing duo, with Roslund being an investigative journalist, and Hellström being the founder of KRIS, an organization designed to prevent crime.

The duo made their writing debut together in 2004 with The Beast, and since then the two have earned widespread acclaim. Three Seconds was first published in 2009, and won the Best Swedish Crime Novel that year. It was later translated to English, from which ‘The Informer’ was adapted. What becomes interesting to look at is the recurring theme in their work. The duo consistently raise questions on morality and ethics, offering a complex take on who the real victim is and who the criminal. This holds true especially with Three Seconds. 

While ‘The Informer’ is not based on a true story, it becomes important to not that Roslund and Hellström write crime fiction from their own personal experiences. In fact, Hellström is a reformed ex-criminal in real-life, who worked to rehabilitate criminals. He also once confessed of his knowledge about amphetamine trade in an interview. This becomes relevant because of the pivotal role amphetamine trade plays in the book. Hellstrom went on to found KRIS based on his own experiences of brutality experienced by criminals, and the issues with the correctional system in Sweden. While Roslund spent several years covering and mentoring prisoners.

Roslund and Hellström wrote a series of crime-books, all of which feature Ewert Grens. Grens also plays a key role in ‘The Informer’, and is played by Common as an NYPD officer. While Grens was introduced with The Beast, and has appeared in every Roslund-Hellström book ever since, what makes the series interesting is that he is never the central character. Three Seconds has Piet Hoffmann as its protagonist, whose name is changed to Pete Koslow for the film. Similarly, Erik Wilson becomes Rosamund Pike‘s Wilcox in the film.

Like the film, the original source material also revolves around Polish Mafia, but instead of New York, the book is set in Stockholm. Even though Three Seconds is not based on a true story, it is rooted in reality, and effectively points out the flaws in the system, especially with the way informants are treated. It also sheds light on a much larger picture involving corruption and betrayals at every level of the system.

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