‘The Infiltrator’ is a Well-Acted But Low Stakes Drug Drama

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Bryan Cranston stepped into the role of lifetime as Walter White on Breaking Bad. The quiet suburbanite turned into ruthless kingpin was an unparalleled piece of pulpy fun, but it was a tale that relied on the storytelling instincts of its supremely talented creative team and not anything resembling a true story. This time Cranston is front and center in a movie about the drug trade in The Infiltrator, which sees the veteran actor as the real life undercover officer Robert Mazur, whose undercover work led to one of the biggest busts in the War on Drugs. Based upon Mazur’s book of the same title, The Infiltrator falls into a lot of the same traps as countless other true crime movies – completely dedicated to real events at the cost of dramatic momentum.

A title card informs the audience that in the ‘80s Columbian drug gangs, namely Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, were raking in around $400 million in cold hard cash through their illicit trade off the shores of Miami. Mazur (Cranston) is introduced working undercover in Tampa in 1985, busting relatively low-level drug dealers. Though he doesn’t completely trust his fellow officer Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), Mazur gets the idea to track the cartels’ money by pretending to work as money launderers. Approved by their boss Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), Mazur must partner with Abreu and infiltrate the lower rung of the Medellín Cartel.

However, another lengthy undercover assignment doesn’t sit well with Mazur’s wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey) and their two kids. Mazur had a chance to retire following an injury on his previous job but turned it down, and now he’s entering the most dangerous assignment of his career. When not in his suburban home, Mazur is travelling the globe and meeting with various drug lords and bankers, using the full help of the US Government to pose as a successful money launderer. Because one lie turns into another quickly in this undercover world, Mazur has to pretend that rookie agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) is his fiancé. As he gets closer and closer to the upper echelons of the cartel, Mazur forms falsified friendships with all sorts of nefarious elites, including Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his family. Of course, the audience is implored to wonder if they’ve gone too deep.

To a certain degree, The Infiltrator shares a lot of elements with Breaking Bad, from Cranston being a suburbanite taking up a dual identity to enter the drug the trade, its effects on his domestic life, a wildcard partner, right down to the greens and oranges that tint much of the cinematography. But there’s little sense of danger in the manner with which this true story unfolds. Told entirely though Mazur’s perspective, The Infiltrator features moments of tension and violent escalation, but too often the moments come across as confusing because the audience doesn’t find out the details of what and why something happened until Mazur does. It hampers the movie when a character is whacked and we’re left to ponder just exactly what happened.

The screenplay by Ellen Brown Furman is in desperate need of a different perspective to facilitate some more tension. It certainly doesn’t help the movie that John Leguizamo’s Emir is a much more interesting character than Cranston’s Mazur, and it hurts the movie even more when Emir is absent for long stretches of time. Meanwhile, The Infiltrator spends a lot of time focusing on the corrupt bankers who welcomed the blood money of the cartels with greedy glee. Aside from The Big Short, The Infiltrator probably has more moments of wonky banking meetings and explanations than any other movie of recent memory.

The uneven dramatic nature of Brad Furman’s film doesn’t diminish the fact that The Infiltrator is incredibly well-acted. By no means is Bryan Cranston phoning it in and trying to recapture the same duality of Walter White. His Bob Mazur is a confident and intelligent undercover agent, and Cranston sells the character in every scene he’s in. There’s a fascinating dynamic between Cranston and Leguizamo, and I’d argue that Leguizamo walks away with the film’s best performance. His character loves the danger of his work, claiming it as his drug of choice. It’s undeniable that the film suffers when Leguizamo isn’t on the screen. There are other colorful supporting performance in the movie, but there’s always a certain level of distance the movie keeps from these characters which undermines their effectiveness. Diane Kruger and Amy Ryan, both excellent actresses, seem underserved by their roles that never take them beyond the surface level, and the same is true of Juliet Aubrey as the unhappy and concerned wife. The most colorful supporting performances come from Benjamin Bratt as a higher level drug lord and Yul Vazquez as the bisexual member of the cartel.

The Infiltrator neither excels nor fails in being a fascinating entry in the true crime genre. It’s a passable movie with moments that pay off and moments that fall flat, a mixed bag of white powders, some high-grade shit cut with baby formula. Brad Furman and cinematographer Joshua Reis give the movie a gritty and textured aesthetic, though the subject matter’s interest in corrupt bankers doesn’t always match the look. In adapting Mazur’s book, Furman and company prove the necessity for adaptation from one medium to another. The Infiltrator is an okay adult drama, but lacks the high stakes that its story requires to reach the next level.

The Infiltrator
  • Overall Score
3

Summary

With strong performances from Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo, The Infiltrator is an okay drama geared for adults but lacks in the cutthroat tension its story requires.

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