Review: The Infiltrator
PLOT: A veteran federal agent gets in too deep when he uses a fake identity to infiltrate the business of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar
REVIEW: I can't think of many other actors today who can play obscene arrogance or alarmed desperation as well as Bryan Cranston. Naturally we saw the actor slip through both modes countless times as Breaking Bad's Walter White, who often found himself looking down his nose at others when he wasn't scrambling in a wild panic to avoid certain doom. It's his adeptness at playing both of these emotions that makes him ideal for the character of Robert Mazur in THE INFILTRATOR, which sees him as an undercover federal agent who spearheads a sting to bring down Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar. Yes, Cranston is once again making a bed with unsavory drug dealers and risking his life in the process, although anyone hoping to get a modicum of the excitement Breaking Bad delivered will walk away fairly disappointed.
Not that it's a bad movie, per se. THE INFILTRATOR is one of those true stories that would probably be more interesting in documentary form than as narrative. As is, the film is an adequate but by-the-numbers tale of a good man dipping his toes a little too deep in murky waters, putting his career and life in harm's way to carry out a dangerous task. We've seen plenty of movies document similar episodes - DONNIE BRASCO is one of the best - and while director Brad Furman makes the film competently, it's really up to Cranston to give it the heft needed to keep you interested. A lesser performance and THE INFILTRATOR would have been pretty disposable, though you still might be compelled to check out the facts on Wikipedia.
Mazur is a straight-laced Florida-based customs agent with a knack for inserting himself among criminals; it's a strenuous job, of course, but someone's got to do it. After a successful sting almost goes awry thanks to a malfunctioning bug, Mazur is given the opportunity to retire and leave it all behind. But a scourge upon the states known as Pablo Escobar makes him rethink the decision. Escobar's drug empire is worth billions, and the U.S. government is having little luck bringing it to a halt. Mazur's idea is to not chase the drugs around, but the money; find out who's profiting from all this and that will eventually topple Escobar's regime, as well as the many crooked banks who enable him. Using an elaborate false identity as a powerful money launderer, Mazur wiggles his way into Escobar's inner circle (though the man himself is rarely seen by anybody). But so much time spent being someone else can frequently make you forget who you are. That kind of thing.
The film's journey is pretty standard: Mazur initially puts on a great show when in the company of bad guys and manages to shed it all at the end of the day, but as things escalate and he edges closer to his main target, he gets a little too close to the action. There's not one but two scenes of Mazur slapping cold water on his face and looking in the mirror, just in case we can't tell the mission is getting to him. There's also the requisite sequence where Mazur explodes on an innocent bystander in order to uphold his deception, further compromising his moral high ground. THE INFILTRATOR trots out these kinds of cliches often, and though I'd watch Cranston do just about anything, the film eventually reveals that it doesn't have all that much new to bring to the "undercover agent" genre.
Cranston is always phenomenal, so it's not even necessary to dwell too much on his performance. The actor lives his roles, it would seem, and as an increasingly harried Mazur, Cranston can be counted upon to bring the character pathos and depth. (Interestingly, Mazur as written here isn't always incredibly complex, but perhaps that's being true to life.) He gets energetic support from John Leguizamo as a high-strung colleague, a bit of a loose cannon who lives his double life to the fullest. Oddly enough, it sometimes feels as though the Leguizamo character's subplot is more interesting than Cranston's, as he's dealing with the real scum of the drug world as opposed to the money men. No matter, though; the two work excellently together. Diane Kruger has a substantial role as an agent who must pretend to be Mazur's fiance, and she's good in the film though her character isn't well-rounded enough for us to get a real sense of who she is. Finally, Benjamin Bratt exudes oily charm (just as he did in RIDE ALONG 2) as one of Escobar's most trusted lieutenants, who Mazur befriends and ultimately betrays.
The cast of THE INFILTRATOR is well above average, it's a respectfully constructed drama, it has moments of tension and just avoids being too long. It doesn't transcend the genre or blow you away in any particular regard, so I consider it only slightly recommendable. Cranston fans will dig it, but there's almost no doubt an investigation of your own into the real details of the case will provide more insight and excitement.