The Infiltrator is a story related to Pablo Escobar, a man that I know the following things about: he was a drug lord…? That’s it, and it’s a question because I wasn’t even sure of the accuracy of that one piece of knowledge. As it turns out, Escobar was a Colombian drug lord whose cartel operated during the 1970’s and 1980’s, with Escobar being hunted down and killed in 1993. That’s not a spoiler for the film because the film isn’t actually about Escobar. The film features a U.S. Customs agent named Robert Mazur (Cranston) who goes undercover as a money launderer to infiltrate Escobar’s network and take out some, if not all, of the cartels infrastructure and power figures. (SPOILER ALERT – the following sentence reveals the fate of Mazur – END SPOILER ALERT) The film is based on the autobiography of Mazur (Mazur is also an executive producer), who, surprisingly, still has a functioning heart and brain and body parts. I have no idea how that’s possible considering the people that were arrested should be out of prison by now and they don’t seem the forgiving type.
So, that’s the movie and I’d say it’s pretty good, but not great. The obvious strength of this movie is in the cast, all of whom were nothing short of brilliant (kudos to director Brad Furman for maximizing the talent). Cranston was as good as we’ve come to expect now that Walter White is safely in the upper echelon of fictitious characters. His Mazur is a perfect balance of a guy who is confident and very good at his job, but also seemingly out of his depth at times throughout the operation. His relationships with his partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), wife Ev (Juliet Aubrey), boss Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), fake fiancée and fellow agent Kathy Ertz (Kruger), and Escobar’s right hand man Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) form the meat of this film and each is developed and executed with precision and care. If you have any trouble believing these relationships, then you are the most cynical person in the theater and I’m in the theater.
As good as Cranston is, Kruger and Leguizamo steal the scenes they are in. As Mazur’s pretend fiancée, Kathy must play the part of rich socialite and convince all of these dangerous people that she is no kind of threat. This is also her first undercover job, which makes Mazur more anxious because he is a bit of a control freak, but she performs flawlessly. So flawlessly, in fact, that her guilt at being asked to betray Alcaino and his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya), is palpable. On the flip side, Leguizamo is convincing the low-level thugs that he is also a low-level thug. At one point, Mazur asks why Abreu does this job and Abreu is clear that he does it for fun. And, clearly, he is enjoying the job. But, even he has limits and you will see it on his face at times. If there’s a downside it’s that Leguizamo and Kruger could have used more screen time, though I’m not sure this particular screenplay could have supported that. Either way, bravo to those two.
There's a theft in progress.
The one thing that keeps this movie from being great is that the story is a little dry and it doesn’t delve into Escobar at all. This also serves to confuse the audience (or maybe just me) a little as Alcaino appears to be the top of the cartel. Even though they tell you his name, there was a small portion of the movie where I wondered if he was actually Escobar. It doesn’t help that the entire plot revolves around the money laundering and not the drugs, so people are naturally going to be a little bored. People do crazy things on drugs, but short of swimming in a building filled with cash, people just hold or look at money.
Even with a finance-based story, there is a very good buildup of tension throughout the film. As I mentioned, the actors do a great job of portraying different emotions and fear is prominent among them. Not knowing this story at all really helps because you have no idea who is going to make it through this operation, (SPOILER ALERT – see previous spoiler alert – END SPOILER ALERT) title character notwithstanding, and you will want the good guys to make it. Too many movies display a complete lack of ability to build tension, so finding a good one like The Infiltrator is enough to forgive any small shortcomings.
We missed you Ben.
Generally, I tend to like movies that teach me something interesting about history. In this case, I learned about operation C-Chase (which is the plot of the movie), that Customs has undercover agents (for most of the movie I wondered why this wasn’t a DEA operation), that Benjamin Bratt is still a working actor (and still good at it), and that Olympia Dukakis (playing Mazur’s aunt) is still a living human (she’s 85!!). Most importantly, I learned I want to see Kruger and Leguizamo in more movies. They’re really good.
Rating: Ask for fifty cents back. That’s how close it was to being great.