Apologies in advance if this comes across as unduly dismissive, but if I were to mention a few key words relating to Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator – let’s say “Cranston”, “cocaine”, “high-finance”, “undercover”, “Escobar”, “Florida”, “Leguizamo”, “1980s” – then you can probably imagine exactly what the film is like: the visual style, the kind of scenes that end up being key, the soundtrack, the types of performances we get, the dialogue, the story, the beats that it hits and the locations used all feel very familiar, and time-worn, and perhaps that’s why it’s solidly-entertaining but ultimately a little underwhelming. However, I’m duty bound to expand on the plot, so, briefly: this is a crime movie in which Bryan Cranston stars as Robert Mazur, the undercover agent who in real life infiltrated the world’s largest drug cartel during the 1980’s, helping to uncover the money-laundering operations of a certain Pablo Escobar; his findings also contributed to the demise of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, who were heavily involved in ‘washing’ Escobar’s cash.
Where the TV series Narcos has its own fictional version of the Colombian drug lord front and centre, in this film his absence is noticeable. He appears only briefly, but his reach, his ruthlessness and his power are constantly felt; there are many people doing his bidding, and his name strikes fear into pretty much everyone whenever it is invoked. Rather than focusing on Escobar himself, Furman – working off a screenplay by Ellen Brown Furman that is based on Mazur’s own book – stays with the money, and therefore there are as many scenes involving bankers, accountants and high-level financiers as there are scenes involving enforcers, drug dealers and other street-level thugs. That said, as is standard with modern, sprawling crime movies, the criminal lifestyle is fetishised, and we get to see how seductively lavish it can be. Some of the material does feel rote: loose cannons and other characters misbehave or fly off the handle in restaurants and nightclubs; terrifying gangsters execute people they are in business with or have known for years without compunction; the story briefly dwells on the protagonist’s state of mind once he is ‘in too deep’, and the impact of the undercover work on his family life, only for said protagonist to carry on regardless; and there are scenes that emphasise his acceptance into the cartel ‘family’ before the inevitable, hurtful betrayal of those who trusted him.
Despite the fact that much of The Infiltrator is predictable and familiar it’s often still enjoyable. Following the money is more interesting than you might expect it to be, though Furman wisely moves away from the bank boardrooms regularly, and incorporates doses of leery glamour, violence and tension. There are a couple of nail-biting scenes, for example, in which Mazur and fellow operative Emir Abreu’s cover comes close to being blown, though a couple more sequences as exciting certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss. The cast is good: Cranston isn’t at the peak of his powers here, but there are flashes of excellence, while there’s solid work from Leguizamo and Diane Kruger as Mazur’s fellow operatives Abreu and Kathy Ertz. Arguably the most impressive performance here is by Benjamin Bratt, who plays Roberto Alcaino, a smooth and wealthy Chilean jeweller who is also the main money transporter within the Medellín cartel. (Hello to Jason Isaacs, as well.)
The story is largely set in Florida to begin with, and expands to several other locations as it progresses, so it has that sprawling, globetrotting nature we associate with crime epics; cinematographer Joshua Reis has a field day in the Sunshine State, with blue skies dominating during the daytime, sunsets and neon in the evening; the colours get stronger as things get weirder during a couple of Colombia-set scenes. It’s a very bright, vibrant piece, and although some may find the occasional unpalatable, lurid moment I liked the look of the film very much. So there’s certainly plenty to recommend it, if you like this kind of thing… it’s just a shame that The Infiltrator never quite breaks away from being slightly better than average, and suffers a little from some jumbled plotting along the way. It has to go down as a missed opportunity.
Directed by: Brad Furman.
Written by: Ellen Brown Furman. Based on The Infiltrator by Robert Mazur.
Starring: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt, Yul Vazquez, Rubén Ochandiano, Juliet Aubrey, Amy Ryan.
Cinematography: Joshua Reis.
Editing: Luis Carballar, Jeff McEvoy, David Rosenbloom.
Music: Chris Hajian.
Running Time: 127 minutes.