You’ve probably seen movies like The Infiltrator before. It’s about someone in law enforcement (U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur, played by Bryan Cranston) going deep undercover to take down bad guys, and along the way complications arise. Think The Departed. The undercover agent grows a little too attached to both his fake persona and the friends he’s making in the crime world. Think Donnie Brasco. It’s based on a real life FBI sting operation (Operation C-Chase) which yielded multiple big time arrests several decades ago, and the filmmakers use the period setting to bombard us with old songs and fashion choices. Think American Hustle. And it specifically revolves around the Colombian drug cartel. Think Michael Mann’s Miami Vice.
In fact, The Infiltrator owes its existence to 2006’s Miami Vice. According to HistoryVsHollywood.com, Robert Mazur worked as a consultant on Miami Vice, and was told by Michael Mann that his life story could make for a great film. So, he put his life story in The Infiltrator book, and sold the film rights.
The plot: In 1985 Florida, Mazur decided to follow the money instead of the drugs. The U.S. federal government was chasing its own tail trying to track the flow of cocaine in and out of the country. Following the money would lead them to the real power players and allow them to inflict real and lasting damage. So, along with his partner Emir Abreu (a fantastic, but underutilized John Leguizamo) Mazur posed as Bob Musella and infiltrated Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering enterprise, repeatedly risking life, limb and even family to delve deeper into the Colombian drug empire than any prior agent. He didn’t get Escobar, but he did manage to…
Now I can’t very well finish that sentence, can I? Even though this is all based in history and easily googled, I don’t want to spoil anything.
That being said, Infiltrator‘s story ultimately retreads familiar cinematic territory. For example, Benjamin Bratt pops up in the final half to basically play Al Pacino to Cranston’s Johnny Depp. The steadily building strain of the undercover operation threatens Mazur’s marriage, particularly after his two worlds (fake life as Musella, real life as Mazur) collide but especially after he’s forced to take on an additional partner (an excellent Diane Kruger) to pose as his fiance. Screenwriter Ellen Brown Furman tries very hard to cram multiple years of complicated and sometimes financially confusing history into a single film, but the strain shows more than it should.
Cranston delivers the commanding performance you’d expect, and there are several well-executed high tension moments. However, the story gets away from the filmmakers the deeper Mazur gets into the mob, and director Brad Furman appears to overcompensate by oddly drowning his actors out with bright, white light. That being said, anyone with a passing interest in this era of history or an appreciation for this kind of film will probably find much to chew on here. At the very least, it’s a good holdover for anyone growing impatient with the wait for the second season of Narcos on Netflix.
65% – “The Infiltrator‘s compelling fact-based story and tremendously talented cast are often just enough to balance out its derivative narrative and occasionally clunky execution.”