By: Hawk Ripjaw –
The Infiltrator begins with Customs officer Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston) posing as a smooth drug dealer at a bowling alley before his wire shorts and burns his chest. Bob is suddenly eligible for retirement with full benefits, but he chooses not to; whether it’s because he’s addicted to the job or just that his kids are kind of annoying, he takes on one last job, this time going undercover with frenemy Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) to step into the inner circle of, and eventually take down, famed cartel leader Pablo Escobar.
Mazur, posing as a charismatic money launderer, connects with a number of Escobar’s top lieutenants, pushing to finally meet the man himself while trying to maintain the façade by ruffling the right feathers. When a misstep requires that Mazur’s character has a fiancée, fresh agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) steps in to play his well-traveled companion, and the pair strike up a deep kinship with one of Escobar’s top men, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya). Despite Alcaino’s ruthless reputation, he accepts the couple as family as they likewise attempt to maintain their cover and convince Alcaino to let them meet Escobar.
It’s not as good as Narcos.
Cranston, Leguizamo, Kruger, and Bratt lead a cast filled with heavy-hitting players all delivering excellent performances. They dissolve into their characters in a way that makes them compelling even though you know where and how most of them will end up. In this sort of movie where you know that the end credits will be prefaced with still shots of the characters and where their real-life counterparts went immediately after the end of the events onscreen, it’s surprising to see such involved, engrossing performances.
Brad Furman is quickly establishing his own personal style, filling The Infiltrator with slick, colorful establishing shots that utilize the ambiance of a location rather than a static shot of the location itself, whether it be exotic dancers or a swimmer in a pool. It gives the movie a glossy, vibrant look. On a lesser note, it’s admirable that the Mazur/Ertz dynamic occasionally sparks with what could be romance, but never goes beyond a professional friendship.
Clocking it at just over two hours, The Infiltrator feels a bit longer due to a plot that is severely overstuffed. Almost a dozen key characters and almost as many plot threads all intersecting is just too much for a single two hour movie. Characters come and go, and come back, or have entire scenes to themselves without any sort of establishment.
It flirts by turns with corruption, seduction, business, violence, and more, but pauses only briefly to examine one before setting it down to move onto another. It also occasionally plays with some downright unfair moments of false tension, which don’t really need to be spoiled but feel frustrating in the way that they’re in the movie only to add a few moments of fear that don’t add up to anything.
A ways into the second act, the passage of time becomes unclear as some relationships grow volumes in a matter of scenes while others appear to be at a standstill until their time rolls back around. Leguizamo in particular feels underutilized, starting out as a hotshot in love with the life as an undercover agent, and eventually having hints of second thoughts before the movie seemingly just forgets about him.
As overstuffed as it feels, the movie also weirdly lacks focus. In what might be the film’s best scene, Bob is interrupted by one of his cartel “friends” at his anniversary dinner with his wife, having to switch gears and become aggressive and cruel towards a waiter to maintain his cover. It’s one outlier for a character who, from the very beginning, draws very clear lines about what he’s willing to do, and suggests that Bob might be getting “too deep,” but it never goes any further and Bob never shows any more teeth like that. Elsewhere we investigate some additional character drama but it rarely goes where it seems to be suggesting, and ultimately feels thematically jumbled. Movies where the dark world of criminals becomes slowly more glamorous to the main character are a dime a dozen, but the groundwork is already here for a fresh version of that, and the movie actively resists capitalizing on it to the point of keeping the criminal actions to a premium and instead trying to make a character study that doesn’t quite work either.
As entertaining and well-acted as The Infiltrator can be at its best, there’s a pervasive feeling that this would have been far more effective as a four or five-part miniseries. Given the amount of ground the movie attempts to cover, it’s not crazy to think that it might have been envisioned as such, or at the very least that the script based on the book by real-life Mazur started out a lot beefier than it ended. Furman pulls out some spectacular performances from more or less everyone in this film, and exhibits a strong sense of visual taste, but editing and scripting end up hurting the movie. It’s worth checking out for a rental, but if you have trouble following or staying focused, it’s not just you.
The Infiltrator (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: if you can’t remember who a character is.
Do a Shot: for each scene that opens with exotic dancers.
Take a Drink: whenever someone’s cover is about to be blown.
Take a Drink: every time you don’t understand what’s going on with the money laundering.