The Infiltrator

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.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 127 minutes.
Year: 2016.

Comments 16

  1. Tom October 18, 2016

    I mostly have to agree with what you say here, this feels like Breaking Bad-lite, and the story and the way it all goes down is oh-so-familiar. I might veer away from calling it a missed opportunity because I really enjoyed it a lot. But I definitely think it was a standard bit of crime drama, and yeah I think Cranston has been better in other things too.

    Agreed on Benjamin Bratt, too. He was really good

    • Stu October 19, 2016

      Yeah, I guess it’s hard for Cranston to shake off that role, certainly at the moment. I watched Trumbo the day after watching this and that role was at least a little different. Here there are definitely shades of Walter White in terms of the way he gets attracted to the lifestyle and occasionally goes loopy to keep his cover up. I didn’t mind this one but I don’t think I’ll remember it in the long run.

  2. dbmoviesblog October 18, 2016

    I really enjoyed this movie. Where people say it’s predictable I only see that it is just realistic. I was glued to the screen from start to finish, it was so engrossing. But that maybe because I haven’t seen Breaking Bad…

    • Stu October 19, 2016

      Glad you liked it! I said it was predictable in the review because it reminded me of a lot of film crime dramas (as opposed to TV dramas like Breaking Bad). There are certain things here I’ve seen before quite a few times (e.g. off the top of my head the betrayals of Donnie Brasco, The Departed, Reservoir Dogs are echoed here), though the circumstances of the story are different.

      • dbmoviesblog October 20, 2016

        You know what for me personally was the most incredible thing about this movie? I mean I am a fan of Donnie Brasco, the Departed, Blow, and yes, the Infiltrator did not invent the wheel , but if the Departed was too fantastical, and Donnie Brasco – dull, the Infiltrator just hit that middle ground. For me, it watched almost like a documentary. And I think it’s gem lies precisely there.

  3. Todd B October 18, 2016

    Hey, didn’t we just talk about this? Maybe it was a dream…anyway, thanks for the heads up on Diane. I skipped over your plot paragraph but read the rest…I’ll probably still go see this one, since I’m always interested in the look and feel of films set in the ’70s and ’80. And as long as it’s entertaining, and I have some popcorn, then I’m sure I’ll be okay with it.

    • Stu October 20, 2016

      We did! I find it’s better to skip over the bits after the plot summary too, but appreciate you not doing so, Todd! Sounds like this one will be right up your street.

  4. Keith October 18, 2016

    You really hit on all of my expectations going in. I never found myself excited for it yet I could tell it probably had some fun moments. Definitely need to see it but I don’t think I’ll put it at the top of my list.

  5. Mark Walker October 19, 2016

    We seem to be on the same page with this one, man. Although, you put it far more eloquently me. My review is done and I’ll post in a day or so but our thoughts seem to match. It’s formulaic and lacks a freshness (considering its all been done before) but this is still quite an enjoyable flick.
    I see you don’t think Cranston is at his best but for me, he was the highlight. I thought he was superb.

    • Stu October 20, 2016

      Cheers Mark, I’ll look out for that. Glad you enjoyed Cranston’s pickle! The next film I watched after this was Trumbo, and I thought he was really good in that. His films don’t seem to be making huge amounts of money though, which is a shame. Not that that’s the be all and end all, but I thought he’d have done better after Breaking Bad. Still…an Oscar nomination’s not to be sniffed at.

      • Mark Walker October 20, 2016

        Haha “Cranston Pickle”?

        I’ve yet to see Trumbo but I do own it so I’ll get around to it someday. To be honest, it was his Oscar nom that has me interested.

        I didn’t put a lot of effort in my Infiltrator review but I thought I should at least say something about it. Cranston was the real highlight for me and it is shame that no one seems to be going to see his films. I do hope this doesn’t affect his options in future as he’s a fantastic actor.

        • Stu October 21, 2016

          Trumbo’s not too bad, but I did think it was overlong…there’s some good support in it too – Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, Diane Lane, Louis CK, John Goodman are all in it, but it’s Cranston’s show.

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