Title: The Infiltrator
Release Date: July 13, 2016
Studio: Broad Green Pictures
Director: Brad Furman
Release Format: Theatrical
There’s a line in The Infiltrator that states, “The economy is addicted to drugs.” Taken at face value, there’s a wrinkle of truth to be found here. The time period in which the film is set was during President Reagan’s war on drugs. Our nation was having a bit of an identity crisis and our relations with Latin America were shaky to say the least. A moral quandary into the dilemmas of battling the drug war has made for excellent cinema in the past. It could still be effective, but The Infiltrator knows the notes but not the music for this cinematic melody. There’s an absence of complexity throughout and what is there is directly lifted from superior films.
That’s not to say The Infiltrator falls flat on its face. As a vehicle for star Bryan Cranston, who was heard this year in Kung Fu Panda 3, it takes full advantage of his ability. Cranston (Trumbo) again showcases his versatility as Robert Mazur, a customs agent with a plan. He decides to implement a plan to track the money trail, not the drugs as so many were inclined to do at the time. To do so, he creates a false persona as a dirty money launderer in order to gain the attention of Pablo Escobar. Mazur’s personality and experience pay off and he soon finds himself drawn into a dirty world of deception and crime. Because it’s set in the 80s, he gets to don a moustache that would make Tom Selleck blush.
The details of this sting operation are highly fascinating despite being somewhat fabricated for the sake of the film. That decision proves to be problematic. By choosing to embellish some plot points, the film sinks into a whirlpool of convention during the second act. He gets too close with one of his targets (Benjamin Bratt) and we see that this job is straining his marriage. There’s little context beyond the surface. By comparison, a film like Donnie Brasco succeeds at making the villain “likeable” despite his horrible actions. In The Infiltrator¸ we don’t get enough of a true reason to explain why Mazur feels like such a kindred spirit to Bratt’s character. The subplot involving his wife is distracting considering his line of work. He’s been doing dangerous work for decades so why is she so distraught by this one operation?
Despite the archetypes of the characters, each one is nevertheless compelling thanks to the actors. Bryan Cranston’s role is not much of a stretch for him but he’s still a force of nature. Much like Walter White, Mazur is a well-intentioned man with some very fundamental flaws. He’s the protagonist of the piece but he definitely behaves like a villain at several points. One in particular is the standout scene of the film, in which he has to berate a waiter to avoid blowing his cover. His role, while the best part of the film, is not entirely a stretch for the decorated actor. The same can be said for his co-stars John Leguizamo and Benjamin Bratt. Leguizamo provides several moments of levity that usually hit but would be better serviced in a more stress-reliant film.
Much like his previous film The Lincoln Lawyer, Brad Furman’s direction is procedural. Mazur is an underdog like McConaughey’s lawyer but the first half of this film makes his success seem effortless. Under his persona, Mazur gets involved fairly quickly without much difficulty. During one scene, Mazur (in character) puts his foot in his mouth by making up a fiancé. This leads to him taking on a partner posing as his wife (Diane Kruger). She’s a rookie agent with no field experience but she proves that she’s more than an object. That’s the first moment where things start to become more complicated. From there, it takes some time before it gets back into gear.
It’s only when the violence escalates that the tension finally gets cranked up. The Infiltrator earns its R rating but the violence doesn’t have the impact it does in a Scorsese film for instance. After an assassination attempt, the film really begins to play with the idea of violence becoming normalized. Again, that’s a trope which harkens back to several other films such as Goodfellas and The Godfather. For the drug dealers, it’s a means to an end but Mazur soon realizes that violence has corrupted the financial world. A bank that Mazur seeks to criminalize hides from their dirty dealings through a thin veil of soft language. No one is entirely pure at heart in this world.
The Infiltrator follows the standard route of an undercover movie without the bite this story warrants. However, the film succeeds thanks to its talented ensemble and moments of tension. There are moments of visual pastiche that complement the 80s setting without feeling tongue in cheek. They’re diamonds in an otherwise dull and predictable crime drama. The fascinating real life story would benefit much from a miniseries of some sort than a feature film. With that said, it’s a competent piece of entertainment if you’re looking for a form of mature escapism.
- Great Ensemble Cast
- Production Design
- Intense Second Half
- Lack of Context at Points
- Derivative of Superior Films
- Anti-Climactic Ending
Matt is a longtime film buff, writer and podcast host from Rhode Island. Ask him what his favorite films are and you will probably get a different answer every time. In addition to writing for The Nerd Stash, Matt writes for The Young Folks, which is also the home of his podcast Directors of Cinema.