The Infiltrator

Posted by Joel Copling on July 13, 2016

"The Infiltrator" coasts. This is the kind of movie whose story (based on "real events" that likely were embellished to some degree) likely has a lot of nuance within its various layers of deception, but it's also the kind of movie that can only offer the particulars of said tale without any of the nuance that probably existed. The only character whose psyche the film actually examines is that of our protagonist, and that's largely through the performance given by the actor who plays him. Otherwise, screenwriter Ellen Brown Furman (adapting the book of the same name by Robert Mazur) offers a lot of familiar elements in a story practically driven by its sense of the inevitable. That nearly pushes the film through to success, but unfortunately the film itself doesn't stretch beyond its most basic capabilities.

Mazur is also the subject of the film, played here by Bryan Cranston as a man torn between two aspects of his life. One is a wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), and two children, none of whom is especially privy to what his job truly entails. In the prologue preceding the title card, we see Mazur in his element undercover, until needing to be swept away from the proceedings when the wire he's wearing short-circuits and burns a hole into his chest, and one wonders how he could possibly explain that one to his family. The other side of the coin is his work with the federal government. When Mazur suspects crooked dealings within Customs' attempts to stop the drug trade, he decides he'll go after the big kahuna himself, Pablo Escobar. Partnered with Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a "virgin" to undercover operations, they target the Alcainos, a well-meaning, disgustingly wealthy family of drug traffickers led by Roberto (Benjamin Bratt).

The best scenes in the film are between Mazur and Alcaino, who develop a twisted, sort-of friendship in spite of the drug lord's conscientious paranoia of those entering into business with him. That is in large part due to Cranston, who (as a certain television series proved) is an expert at characters who seem outwardly innocent but are betraying a gamut of secrets and whose best moments as an actor are always ones as characters whose situations become desperate enough to come down to the proverbial wire. Other characters enter the mix, such as John Leguizamo as another partner of Mazur's named Emir Abreu, whose specialty is getting close to members of the cartel, Yul Vazquez as Javier Ospina, an off-puttingly bisexual business partner of Mazur's alter ego Bob Musella who ends up making the wrong move at the wrong time, and an intense Joseph Gilgun as Dominic, a former convict whose sentence will be commuted if he aids the investigation.

The side characters are really just a means to an end for Furman and the director, her son Brad, who affords the film a gritty visual sensibility that does, at least, fit the tone of what is a sweaty, grungy tale. The problem is that the film is better as an endless supply of actors in this ensemble, which also includes virtual cameos by Amy Ryan as Mazur's boss, Elena Anaya in a very good performance as Roberto's wife Gloria, and the great Olympia Dukakis as Mazur's calculating aunt Vicky, than as a pretty standard telling of this series of events. It feels like an assembly line specifically manufacturing developments in the plot, one after the other until it reaches the coda, which offers the usual series of information after the story "ends" (which, of course, it obviously hasn't, if it needs a coda). "The Infiltrator" only offers what it feels it needs to, and its intuition doesn't have a far-enough reach.

Film Information

Bryan Cranston (Robert Mazur), John Leguizamo (Emir Abreu), Diane Kruger (Kathy Ertz), Juliet Aubrey (Evelyn Mazur), Benjamin Bratt (Roberto Alcaino), Ruben Ochandiano (Gonzalo Mora Jr.), Yul Vazquez (Javier Ospina), Joseph Gilgun (Dominic), Simon Andreu (Gonzalo Mora Sr.), Elena Anaya (Gloria Alcaino), Amy Ryan (Bonni Tischler), Olympia Dukakis (Aunt Vicky), Art Malik (Akbar Bilgrami), Said Taghmaoui (Amjad Awan), Jason Isaacs (Mark Jackowski).

Directed by Brad Furman and written by Ellen Brown Furman, based on the book by Robert Mazur.

Rated R (violence, language throughout, sexual content, drug material).

127 minutes.

Released on July 13, 2016.