Upon initial viewing, “The Infiltrator” isn’t unlike any other kind of drug cartel movie you have ever seen. There are drugs, some high stakes, money laundering, and a whole hell of a lot of killing. Again, nothing unusual. “The Infiltrator,” based on a true story, aims to be other than the usual. And with a fantastic cast and a lot of story threads that allow for the potential to do so, it still manages to be unmemorable.
Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) is an undercover U.S. Customs official who opts out of the easy choice of retiring. Instead, he chooses to take on another case with fellow official, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), whom Robert finds untrustworthy. I don’t even recall why he doesn’t trust him. Half of the struggle is learning that Emir is on his side, and this is only the half of it. The case involves crooked businessmen and a drug cartel. Robert’s in the midst of a large money laundering scheme that goes all the way up to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, so there’s a lot riding on cracking this case and the stakes are immensely high.
There are a lot of players involved–Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger as Robert’s fake fiance and fellow agent, Juliet Aubrey, Amy Ryan, Joseph Gilgun, Jason Isaacs, and Juan Cely–and it’s occasionally hard for the film to maintain focus. There are also a lot of side plots, which, while important to Robert Mazur’s character, don’t exactly mesh well within the larger story. One of these side plots is Cranston and Juliet Aubrey’s marriage. She isn’t given very much development, and although we may understand where she’s coming from, the added marital issues are semi-contrived non-issues. Director Brad Furman attempts to use a potential tension between the two to heighten the stakes of the case, but the way it’s portrayed doesn’t do this particular story line any justice. Nor does it really serve the overall story. In fact, it often feels like “The Infiltrator” is trying to push so many aspects into one film and this steals away some of the its momentum.
The film has an overarching theme that questions why Cranston and Leguizamo do what they do. Cranston’s character could have retired, but he carries on. Leguizamo declares that the job is his “drug of choice” and it’s easy to see that he’s really into what he does. It’s Cranston’s Robert Mazure that often befuddles. He clearly knows what he’s doing. An experienced and knowledgeable agent, he’s very good at what he does. But why does he do it? Cranston never gets around to saying it out loud and his reasons are far more muddled than his partner’s. So, then, what’s the point? It’s one of those things that’s introduced but swept under the rug without any clear follow-through.
Another theme present, and one which comes in much later, is the idea of getting too close to the criminals they’re working with. Are they friends? Benjamin Bratt’s character brings Cranston into the fold, fully trusting him with his family and his business, getting so comfortable as to possibly introduce him to Escobar. Cranston and Kruger struggle with the sense of betrayal as they plot to take down Bratt and the cartel. The two agents have gotten to know these people, and while they have all done terrible things, the pretend couple can’t help but feel sorry for them and their families in some way. This theme had so much potential to be further developed, but it’s introduced too late in the game and then given little acknowledgement before tensions burst.
The 1965 setting is wonderfully portrayed through costumes, hair and makeup, and design. There are the intense, suspense-filled moments and everyone’s performances are on point, giving varying degrees of nuanced portrayals and more when the need calls for it. However, regardless of the strong cast and a lot of great themes and intriguing prospects, “The Infiltrator” never elevates itself, leaving several issues hanging. It’s a semi-entertaining drug cartel film that allows for a two hour escape into its world of violence and high-stakes suspense, but by not allowing itself to flourish and explore the themes it presents, it winds up being pretty forgettable.
"The Infiltrator" is a semi-entertaining drug cartel film that allows for a two hour escape into its world of violence and high-stakes suspense, but by not allowing itself to flourish and explore the themes it presents, it winds up being pretty forgettable.