Is there anything Bryan Cranston can’t do? I mean seriously, after appearing as everyone’s favorite meth kingpin, he’s been given a blank check to do whatever he wants. He’s generally starred in terrible dreck the past couple of years like Red Tails, John Carter, Rock of Ages, Total Recall, Godzilla, and Madagascar 3 but everyone gave these a pass; because come on! He is the one who knocks! Besides, he paid his dues for years with Malcolm in the Middle, and all it takes is just one Trumbo to remind us who we’re dealing with. Having said all that Cranston is one of the few good things about The Infiltrator, a boring, clichéd, undercover drug drama.
The Infiltrator is about….well an infiltration into the Medellin Cartel’s (the cartel run by Pablo Escobar) business and money laundering operations in the mid-1980s. The trailer hypes the film as the biggest undercover drug bust to ever happen in Pablo’s empire, but the movie isn’t as exciting as the trailer makes it seem. The film is really about bringing down major players in the Cartel who handle money laundering and the corrupt bank responsible for helping them. The film is less like Narcos or the magnificent Sicario and more like if Black Mass was slower and showed sequences of undercover agents talking about money, meeting with criminal suits in rooms, and being unexciting.
Still, that does sound like it could be entertaining, unfortunately, The Infiltrator stumbles in many places. The film is way too long and very predictable. Will there be tension in Robert Mazur’s (Bryan Cranston) family as a result of his undercover job? Will there be scenes where they should have been caught but don’t through ridiculous levels of serendipity? Will Bob start to actually enjoy his undercover persona….etc? The film’s soundtrack is by the numbers and much of the dialogue in the first half is littered with worn cop tropes. As mentioned previously, the film teases that there will be heady shootouts and a grand finale that brings down Pablo Escobar but none of that happens. The film ends with a meek whimper. Still, there are some stylish camera sequences in the film.
The two good things about the film are the actors and the chemistry they have together. Bryan Cranston is fantastic with his slow transformation from mild-mannered Robert Mazur into the made up mobster Bob Musella (his undercover identity). Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) is also quite excellent. Roberto is one of the top money launders in the Medellin Cartel but allows Musella and his fake fiancee (i.e. also undercover) into his heavily guarded personal life. Indeed the best parts of the film are the drama that revolves around the Musellas and their drug counterparts, the Alcainos. Their rapport feels genuine and the heart of the film’s drama depends on this, the importance of their duty as undercover agents, the feelings of mutual admiration and respect, and the obvious reflexive parallels.
Of course, this good is counterbalanced by Robert’s partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), who doesn’t seem to shut his face when he is on screen. Performing the function of comic relief, he is painfully unfunny and has ample screen time in the first half of the film. Thankfully, as Bob penetrates deeper into the upper echelons of the cartel, he is almost forgotten.
The Infiltrator is, unfortunately, a film that fell too much in love with its story. It’s one that on the surface is exciting but in reality lacks true substance to carry a full-length feature film, despite the gravitas of its magnificent lead. So what we are left with is a well-acted, yet tired undercover cop drama. Its message is loud and clear: it’s easy to lose yourself because it’s fun to be bad. Evil or otherwise, people grow on you despite your best intentions. The focus on personal betrayal and heartbreak is a nice touch but is set up for far too long and the payoff isn’t nearly as grand as the film intends. This is probably because The Infiltrator ends weakly and tacks on a lazy epilogue that undercuts the emotional impact it had. The film could have cut thirty minutes making it more of a tense taut thriller. In the end, our heroes make a dent in the Medellin Cartel. I suppose that’s good enough.
TLDR: The Infiltrator is an overly long by the books undercover cop drama with a fairly predictable ending. The film is buoyed by some superb acting performances. 3/5 Stars