“The Infiltrator” should be my type of movie. It has a great commanding leading actor in Bryan Cranston; subject matter revolving around the drug cartels of the 1980s and the undercover agent who exposed it. We’ve seen movies about undercover agents in the mob before, like “Donnie Brasco” and “The Departed” but it’s far from being a subject matter that I’m tired of seeing. It’s proven to be great film material and capable of creating dynamic and exciting stories. Last year we even got a little role reversal on that type of setup with “Black Mass” (which I really enjoyed save for a shaky final third act).
“The Infiltrator” though is every undercover agent movie ever made without any of the excitement, intrigue or smart writing. I sat in the theater beyond bored as this two hour juggernaut dragged through plot point after plot point with muddled explanations and ill set up character relationships. “The Infiltrator” does have fine performances, especially from Cranston, and does show every once in a while begin to deliver on the potential that it has. But instead this plays out like the forgettable 4 dollar movie bin it is that should have been a cable movie instead of a big time feature film (which gives me no pleasure to say).
The story of “The Infiltrator” is about a U.S. customs agent, Robert Mazur, who goes deep undercover “to follow” Pablo Escobar’s money laundering scheme in the Colombian drug cartels in order to bust the burgeoning drug business that is seeping across American shores.
The movie is based off the true story and the facts based book (of the same name with a much longer subtitle) written by the customs agent Mazur himself. The film seems to carry with it a weight of authentic air. I don’t know too much about the real life story but I can say as I watched the movie it maintains its realism from a true life event like this one. Director Brad Furman clearly shows a lot of care in bringing the era to life (aside from Amy Ryan’s hairstyle). The trouble though, even with Furman’s cares and attention, this movie clearly stems from Furman’s approach.
The director of “Lincoln Lawyer” (which I think is a little overlooked and features a really good Matthew McConaughey performance) and “Runner Runner” has trouble jumbling the main elements of the film. The story execution is a bit muddled at times with some scenes feeling very out of place and jumps around a lot without much set up or explanation. You’ll be in one setting then all of a sudden be jumped around to something completely different which becomes very jarring. The thematic tissue throughout the movie of the duality of leading this type of life and getting too close to your targets is all there on the surface. But Furman is able to explore any of that weaving in and out of plot points losing the fabric of the story. The film also does a lot of telling with the character relationships. We are told that two characters are becoming close with one another but I fail to be shown that or feel that on screen. And for going deep undercover (a pretty dangerous job to say the least) Furman makes everything look very easy for the main characters. The undercover agents move up the ranks slowly but surely without many hiccups or tension.
That’s the biggest things this movie lacks, tension and urgency. I felt none of those things for our main hero or from any of our main characters. When I can’t feel the real danger that is present on screen it makes me feel far less invested in the goings about of the story. Just when things appeared to get interesting and Furman starts to build some tension we are cut to another scene dispelling the energy of the entire movie.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again a movie following the tropes of a genre doesn’t automatically make a movie fail. It’s all about execution. Director Antoine Fuqua is very good at bringing movies that are a bit clichéd into a very entertaining and well made light (His recent boxing movie “Southpaw” is a great example of this). But Brad Furman doesn’t execute well upon the familiar elements. Everything feels very C-level. There isn’t really anything new here we haven’t seen before. This again, would be fine if there was a level of craft brought to the movie that elevated it.
The performances are the movie’s saving grace. Bryan Cranston is really good on screen in a role that is a bit tricky to pull off. There has to be a duality to the performance that he has to integrate to certain scenes at the right moments and this Cranston does with ease (anytime spent watching “Breaking Bad” would tell you all you needed to know about that). John Leguizamo was also very good and entertaining as another agent undercover. His style and Cranston’s differ from one another which add to an interesting dynamic between them (If only they shared more screen time). Diane Kruger was excellent as well. She and Cranston had incredible chemistry on screen together. The pair manages to balance the right amount of sexual tension and professional respect one another without overplaying either side.
An element of the movie that rather annoyed me was, for a movie involving Pablo Escobar there is oddly very little mentioned about him throughout the running time. This makes the Custom officials actions and goals feel a tad bit aimless. The moment he finally does appear on screen I couldn’t believe how unexcited and unrewarded I felt. He then disappears again. Now perhaps this wasn’t the ultimate goal of the narrative to build him up as the big bad guy but the movie never really makes it clear WHO the Customs are trying to get. Everyone? Escobar?
Crime and Fantasy are among my two favorite genres (which oddly enough have little in common with each other), so when I see something pretty subpar and generic from those genres I am a bit more disappointed than I would be for most other genre films (which is just me personally). “The Infiltrator” is as generic as you get of a crime thriller. It has all the tropes of an undercover movie without any of the technical poise or suspense. It’s a waste of a few good performances and a tried and true premise. There isn’t anything offensively bad just comes across lazy from time to time and not well thought out despite Furman’s attraction to the subject matter.