Nothing special stands out about The Infiltrator. The movie is full of clichés and weird editing. Keeping up with all of the colorful characters is difficult, which is bad, because nearly every character we see is important to the story. However, The Infiltrator’s positives outweigh its negatives.
U.S. Customs Service special agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) Even though he is offered an extremely rewarding retirement deal — one he refuses to tell his supportive wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), about — he decides to take this one last assignment, Operation C-Chase, and goes undercover as Bob Musella, a lawyer who helps transfer dirty money for various drug organizations. To gain access to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s trafficking scheme, Mazur gets help from his new partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), who gives him access to an informant (Juan Cely) who knows information about the money laundering activities of Escobar’s Medellín Cartel and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which helped transfer the funds. Mazur and his undercover character’s fiance, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), gain the trust of Escobar’s main distributor, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), as well as other higher-up officers in Escobar’s program.
In real life, Mazur served for 27 years as a federal agent. After graduating from Wagner College in 1972, he worked in the Intelligence Division of the IRS. He began infiltrating the cartel nearly 15 years later. The screenplay, written by Ellen Brown Furman, is based on Mazur’s 2009 book The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. Since the 1980s, when he started receiving death threats from cartel members, he has made relatively few public appearances. He said in a few interviews he did not even think to write the book until after working as a consultant on Michael Mann’s 2006 film Miami Vice, in which Mann told Mazur he would love to make a movie about his life. Mazur also said he wrote the book because he got concerned a story like this was probably not going to get told.
The real life Mazur is soft-spoken, friendly and loves his family. These come across in Cranston’s performance. With Mazur, Cranston plays a character who constantly goes back and forth from yelling with a stiff, anxious body, to one who is relaxed and loves spending quality time with his loved ones. He is a master at this type of role.
You can tell director/producer Brad Furman and team worked hard on getting this made. Even with a script that felt rushed, most of the actors give good performances and help you through the confusing plot. Something this movie succeeds at sometimes, but fails at other instances, is setting up scenes to help get through this movie’s nonexistent narrative. You meet a lot of interesting characters who get good lines, but then you meet a few more literally 30 seconds later, and you forget about the importance of the characters you met half a minute earlier until seeing them again in later parts of the movie. This movie is 127 minutes long. If certain characters had been cut out to make this shorter but more coherent, or longer to give you more time to think and not be confused about the significance of each character, this would have been a legitimately good movie. Not a perfect movie, and will we get more to that later, but a good one, worthy of high praise as opposed to lukewarm.
I was genuinely intrigued by the film’s mystery. The trailer made this look like it was going be a typical undercover cop movie, but The Infiltrator is more than that. I felt like another movie about Pablo Escobar would have been a waste of time and money, but once I realized this was going to be about the cartel from Mazur’s point of view, with Escobar having little presence, I gained a little more confidence about having a good experience. Something a lot of recent movies are doing, especially ones set in the 1970s and ’80s, is putting a filter in post to make the film look like it was actually shot in the ’70s or the ’80s, which is fine. That would be totally cool, but none of these films keep that aesthetic consistent throughout their complete runtimes. I could not even stand this when watching The Nice Guys earlier this year, a film I otherwise loved. At the beginning of this movie, when Mazur is undercover at a bowling alley for a drug bust, the cinematography was grainy as heck. Then, somewhere in the middle of the movie, when Mazur is talking to Alcaino on his balcony, the movie looks like it was shot with modern cameras, with a crystal clear, no-grain look. This aesthetic inconsistency had occurred throughout the whole movie, but became extremely apparent during the balcony scene. Seriously, filmmakers, stop trying to put this aesthetic into your movies, but if you cannot help yourself, at least have the decency to make your movie look the same all the way through.
Another poorly executed part of The Infiltrator is the editing. In one sequence that stands out in a bad way, a shot cuts away from Mazur when he opens a small Virgin Mary trinket covered in blood after opening a mysterious package mailed to him. The camera gets close to his hands and his face, Chris Hajian’s score crescendos, you see a look of horror on Mazur’s face and then before you see the object that makes the package bloody, the movie cuts to Mazur in a bar with his friend, Dominic (Joe Gilgun). Dominic tells Mazur the significance of what he saw, but the film should not have cut before we got to see what Mazur was holding. Dominic might as well have turned to the camera to break the fourth wall, instead of just talking to Mazur. This movie contains several parts that randomly go back and forth between what is currently happening and what happened earlier that day, complete with a voice-over from Mazur. An example of this is when he is thinking about a conversation he had with his wife after the bloody package scene. The movie goes back and forth from showing him talking to his wife to him laying down in a bed at a different location.
Overall, The Infiltrator is a competent movie. Furman and team should feel good for making this as well as they did, I only wish they had made certain changes before and during production to elevate this from being just an OK movie to a good one.