The Infiltrator (2016)

infiltrator_2016_poster
  • Time: 127 min
  • Genre: Biography | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Brad Furman
  • Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt

Storyline:

A U.S. Customs official uncovers a money laundering scheme involving Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

2 reviews

  • I’ve seen it before, way too many times. I realize there’s drama to be found in this sort of story but originality has to count for something. In the end, TV and movies have been here and done that.
    Ellen Sue Brown has formed a script from Robert Mazur’s life working undercover for the U. S. Customs. It would have been nice if they’d found another angle but most of them have been used up as well. It’s not that this isn’t still a problem. The higher ups, and many of the lower downs, in drug distribution think they are immune not just from the laws but from the moral behavior the rest of us make some effort to conform to. Of course, the higher up you went the more family oriented the drug bosses became and loyalty is the currency they believe in. This is all well and good and Brown may be taking all of it from the person who was there but this isn’t a documentary and it wanted something more. How were the various families on either side affected by what happened? How much does power have a place in this kind of life? Instead we got the cliché scenes of blood running down the shower drain and the good guy being utterly terrified while the drug people treated it just like another day at work. The disclaimer says based on real events so there’s room to maneuver in that.
    Director Brad Furman either got some great performances or he allowed his actors the room they needed to create them. Whichever it is, it worked. Furman has fairly good pacing which goes a long way to get us wrapped up in the story even if we’ve seen it all before.
    There are no bad performances in this movie but some actors stand out. The best is Bryan Cranston who can turn a small facial expression into a meaningful glance. You know what his character, Robert Mazur, is feeling at any given moment and he does it with small expressions and intonations. That doesn’t mean he’s afraid to be big and loud. There were two contrasting points in the movie that were some of his best work. One was huge and one, of necessity, had to be small and not attract attention. Cranston did both perfectly.
    The two major women in the cast are more than just set dressing. Juliet Aubrey plays Robert’s wife and you can see how she’s on pins and needles all the time but she also keeps the family going. The other female is the other undercover cop with Mazur, Bonni Tischler, played by Amy Ryan. Here the contrast between Mazur’s wife and his undercover partner playing is fiancée brings both woman into sharp focus. His partner is calm, paying attention, and doesn’t flinch. His wife is a bundle of nerves that she can only relax a little but never get rid of. Almost in a cameo is Olympia Dukakis playing Mazur’s Aunt Vicky. She commands the screen when she comes on and I wish they’d found more for her to do.
    The other men aren’t slouches either. John Leguizamo is another of Mazur’s partners but the character does very little. I wish they’d have given him more as well because his acting is real and leaves you wondering if he’s just playing himself. Finally, Benjamin Bratt plays a drug king pin Roberto Alciano. His technical work is perfect from his accent to the way he cuts potatoes. Bratt has been on TV too long. He needs to come back to the movies.
    I give The Infiltrator 4 ½ cakes out of 5. As I wrote this I upped my number three times because the movie is so well done. I still wish they had handled it differently, finding a different angle to tell this oft told story but you can’t say it’s not a good movie.

  • Olympia Dukakis is in but a few scenes in The Infiltrator, but her appearance electrifies this well-made but often disengaging drama. The film’s characters notice as well – her brash and charismatic Aunt Vicky is described as “a wild horse” and “a breath of fresh air” – and the actors deliver their observations with a tinge of melancholy, as if mourning her dearth of screen time.

    Dukakis’s Aunt Vicky is one of the many satellites that orbit Robert Mazur, the infiltrator of the title, who was a real-life federal agent who went undercover to take down Pablo Escobar’s drug-trafficking operation in 1986. Mazur is portrayed by Bryan Cranston, no stranger to essaying middle-aged men leading double lives, and he delivers a typically nuanced performance, utterly believable as the decent but necessarily deceitful family man and the undercover agent masquerading as a high-flying, glad-handing accountant navigating his way through a world of duplicitous bankers and drug dealers. The Infiltrator is an undeniable showcase for Cranston but, like last year’s Oscar-nominated turn in Trumbo, it places him front and center at the expense of integrating him into the narrative and with the supporting cast.

    Perhaps The Infiltrator might work better as a television drama – there are too many characters, too many potentially intriguing narrative strands and, all too often, the film feels suffocated. The chalk and cheese partnership of Mazur and streetwise Emir Abreau, for example, is never fully mined and, quite frankly, John Leguizamo as Abreau is so dynamic that one wonders if The Infiltrator might have been a more engaging brew had it been from his perspective. The attention paid to the first half of the film, wherein director Brad Furman observes Mazur’s acclimation and assimilation with an almost clinically procedural eye, is remarkable but it is all but missing in the second half of the film.

    Befuddling, since that second half contains the most intriguing relationships. First is the pairing of Mazur with novice undercover agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), whose intel-gathering skills may be an asset to Mazur but whose cover as his glamorous fiancee is an understandable worry to Mazur’s real-life wife (Juliet Aubrey). Mazur and Ertz become friends with Robert Alcaino and his wife Gloria (Benjamin Bratt and Elena Ayana), and the scenes with the quartet underscore the dangers of getting too close while still maintaining focus on getting the job done. This applies not only to the chumminess between the men and the women, but to Mazur and Ertz who must forge a necessary intimacy in order for their cover to work.

    And yet…something doesn’t quite click into place. All the performers – Bratt has never been more commanding nor Kruger more coolly seductive – are bang on point, but the weight of the impending betrayal doesn’t impact as it should. That’s the overall issue of The Infiltrator – it’s a solidly directed, well-produced, and excellently acted work, but it simply does not grip.

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