Bryan Cranston is not your typical movie star, although he seems like it. Underneath the cool-high-school-dad exterior, there’s an actor of great depth and unexpected power. You’ll know it when you see a scene involving his character, said character’s wife, and a restaurant on their anniversary dinner. Cranston seems to have benefited during his years as Walter ‘Heisenberg’ White on TV’s Breaking Bad. And it has contributed greatly in this biographical crime thriller, about as straightforward and predictable as a stab in the gut.
Yes, Brad Furman’s (The Lincoln Lawyer, Runner Runner) directorial efforts here will not be known for their signature riffs, as there is none to speak of. It’s standard thriller fare, the kind that would do well had it been released between the late 1980s and early 1990s; pure genre fare that caters to mostly adult film-goers that aren’t interested in seeing computer-generated superpowers or rubble. In other words, unoriginal yet mature, grown-up stuff.
The Infiltrator, however, is textbook example of how great casting can elevate shopworn genre material into solid entertainment, as the always-reliable Cranston has proved here. Sure, he is strongly supported by a bevy of intriguing cast members including Benjamin Bratt, John Leguizamo and the lovely Diane Kruger; but in portraying real-life undercover agent Robert Mazur shimmying his way up through Pablo Escobar’s criminal empire, Cranston’s understated but strong everyman presence confidently carries the movie solely. That quality alone replaces the tediousness often found in similar true-crime movies with an intense amount of uneasy suspense and grounded credibility, providing lots of fun for Cranston fans as long as they do not expect anything groundbreaking.
There are many reasons to like The Infiltrator. It takes place in the ’80s, it’s suspenseful, and it gives us a really gritty inside look at what life is like for a good guy who goes undercover to work with the Colombian drug cartel.
Which is what Bryan Cranston’s character does. He’s a guy on the verge of retirement and could easily leave to spend time with his wife and kids, but takes this one last job. And it proves to be the toughest one yet as he poses as a money launderer to try and take down Pablo Escobar’s entire drug trafficking network.
It takes place in the Reagan-’80s and so there’s this whole overt camera filter over the whole film. It’s not too distracting, but it’s also not terribly necessary. But it’s minor.
The whole thing plays out as one giant sting operation. And the filmmakers understand that in a 2 hour movie, you don’t need to run through all the details in one quick dialogue-filled scene. However, it would’ve been nice if they had given us a little more along the way.
It starts unraveling a little over an hour in. There’s about a 30 minute stretch where you’re looking at the person sitting next to you saying, “What’s happening?” There’s a lot left unexplained, but I guess there was more concern about the movie not becoming any longer.
The film is long at 127 minutes, but it’s never really an issue. We need the time to process what’s happening and for Cranston’s character to evolve over the course of the film.
It tightens back up in the home stretch, culminating in an emotionally impressive final scene.
The always-under-appreciated John Leguizamo plays Cranston’s partner and does a very good and believable job.
There seems to be this slightly neglected theme intermittently placed throughout the film about the American economy collapsing without laundered money. It’s an interesting idea and one that should have been touched upon way more.
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I had been waiting to watch this movie for some time so when I finally did I was really stoked to check it out. Bryan Cranston in the movie definitely peaked my interest as he did a really great job in Breaking Bad. Let me start by saying I thought the production value of this movie was excellent. The retro vibe in the movie really helps sell it and in some sense is almost comical. Those huge 80s cell phones, the awkward 80s clothes, it really helps sell this movie and create a nice vibe. However past that there really seems to be something missing from this movie. The first part of it starts out rather well. For the most part in the beginning of the movie the acting is done well and the story seems to move along at a decent pace. However toward the last 1/3 of the move it really seems like we are simply going through motions from A to B to C. And while they are able to sell some thing to the viewer in the movie, a good deal of what they were hoping for seems to be lacking. They really try to sell this idea that the main characters get caught up and attached vibe in the last 1/3 of the movie. However neither the script nor the acting really pulls that off. You never really have this sense that he is sucked in and almost guilty for being an agent. They try hard to sell it in the script but the emotional attachment simply wasn’t there. There is a line at the end of the movie that really makes the failure stand out as one character says “none of your real friends went to jail today” But at no time was there any real belief that any sort of real relationship developed. Which leaves the viewer with the reality that the whole movie is just a string of scenes from A to Z but no dynamic or character development. There are two kinds of scenes in a movie. The 1st kind moves the movie forward. The second kind tells us something important about a character. There is plenty of the 1st kind in this movie. The second kind really seems to be lacking. For that reason I gave the movie a 7/10. It’s an interesting story and going from point A to point Z will keep you entertained. But after watching it you will realize nothing really memorable happened in the movie and that it was just kind of a bland movie.
The war on drugs has become a bit of a punchline in the real world, but has proved to be fertile ground for filmmaking: Sicario (2015), American Hustle (2013), Traffic (2000). Additionally, the popular Netflix show “Narcos” takes on the same Medellin drug cartel as this latest from director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer, 2011). The movie is based on the true events of Robert Mazur’s book “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel” (a title that’s very descriptive, if a bit long).
Bryan Cranston continues his impressive Hollywood run this time as Robert Mazur, the man who goes undercover to expose the money-laundering system of the cartel. His flamboyant alter-ego is known as Bob Musella, a character that allows Mazur (and Cranston) to show a side not typically seen. His antics get him inside Columbian Drug Lord Escobar’s organization in the mid-1980’s.
When Mazur realizes the traditional method of chasing the drugs isn’t working, he decides the age-old idiom “follow the money” might be a better approach. This takes him inside the world of international money laundering, and he learns that banks and governments are quite dependent on this huge business of drug money movement.
There are specific groups of people here: the government agencies, the small task force, the corrupt (and appreciative) bankers, the various levels within the cartel, and even Mazur’s family … all these forces intertwine to make life difficult for Mazur and his team, and provide a glimpse into the complexities of undercover work.
In addition to stellar work from Cranston, the cast is terrific. John Leguizamo plays Mazur’s motivated partner Abreu; Diane Kruger plays his undercover fiancé; Juliet Aubrey is Mazur’s real life wife who doesn’t much appreciate his declining the early retirement offer; Olympia Dukakis provides a dash of comedy relief as Mazur’s Aunt; Yul Vasquez is the creepy money manager for Escobar; Benjamin Bratt plays Roberto, Escobar’s right-hand man and the key to Mazur’s case; and Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In, 2011) is Roberto’s wife. Also present are Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs and the always great Michael Pare.
There are a couple of standout scenes – one involving chicken and voodoo, and another with a briefcase mishap, but my favorite is the Happy Anniversary cake scene in the restaurant where Mazur flashes his alter-ego Musella for his real wife to see … and she is understandably stunned.
The movie does a nice job of capturing the look and feel of the era (30 years ago), but it’s somehow missing the elevated suspense it portends to drag us and the characters through. Some elements seemed impossible to believe – why would Mazur risk his family’s safety? The timeline was a bit muddled. We aren’t sure how much time has passed, but there certainly don’t seem to be enough interactions before Roberto is telling Mazur he is “like family”. It plays a bit like those romance movies where the two leads are head over heels in love after a conversation or two. An element is missing and it affects the level of tension throughout the film. And that’s something even a Leonard Cohen song (“Everybody Knows”) can’t fix.