The Infiltrator  – ★★★★
The 1980s. A federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) works as an undercover in a notorious drug trafficking ring established by Pablo Escobar. Robert Mazur is now influential and charismatic Bob Musella who operates alongside two other undercover agents: his “fiancée” Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and best friend Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo). However, in reality, Robert is also a devoted family man, raising two children with his wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey). This movie explores the unreal day-to-day life of an undercover agent who faces grave dangers every day, and all for the chance to secure convictions of the most notorious drug lords in the country. The Infiltrator is an engaging, well-acted film that goes into some depth in its portrayal of an undercover life, and along the way, distinguishes itself from other drug trafficking/undercover cop movies by being “authentic” in its story progression and low-key when it comes to action sequences and special effects.
Many people compare The Infiltrator with a TV series Breaking Bad because both films star Bryan Cranston, with both stories starting with a seemingly law-abiding citizen who plunges into the world of crime. However, the comparison is unhelpful. The Infiltrator is more of Donnie Brasco (1997)/The Departed (2006) meet Blow (2001). Donnie Brasco is a film based on the real-life story of Joseph D. Pistone, who infiltrated mafia in New York in the 1970s; The Departed remakes the 2002 film Internal Affairs; and Blow tells the story of a cocaine smuggler George Jung. But, if Donnie Brasco borders on boredom, and The Departed has too many “starry” performances and a fantastical story to focus on realism, The Infiltrator provides a refreshing break, with the film never being “in-one’s-face” and does not pack any meaningless action. It is a “slow-burning”, intelligent film which will keep you guessing until the very end. It is not a perfect film: more could have been done with the editing and script, and the film is undoubtedly too long, but it is also interesting to watch.
The film’s ending is predictable and unimaginative, but this only adds to the realism of the picture. One of the “innovations” of the movie is surely the multiple agents’ undercover mission. Diane Kruger as Kathy Ertz and John Leguizamo as Emir Abreu are very good as other undercover agents working alongside the main character, playing off Mazur/Musella’s seriousness, and together making an unforgettable team.
We are intrigued from the very first scenes. The movie opens up with Robert Mazur in the midst of one of his undercover missions. Mazur then has an idea: why don’t the federal agencies follow the money, instead of the drugs? That way, the government will have a chance to get closer to the real “mob” behind all the illegal action, and Robert Mazur is certainly the man for the job alongside his friend and made-up “fiancée”. This is also not a film about Pablo Escobar, as Mazur only manages to get as close to the drug lord as passing him briefly in a vestibule.
The Infiltrator is excitingly thrilling throughout, but two scenes stand out way above the rest: one of them is where Mazur is celebrating a wedding anniversary with his wife only to meet one of the bad guys: Mazur thinks quick on his feet, naming his wife his secretary, telling that he is there to celebrate her birthday, and then mistreating the waiter for bringing the wrong cake. Another scene involves one of the bad guys spotting Mazur’s undercover recording device in his briefcase. These scenes are so well-done, they are jewels of the film, telling us what this movie is all about: a man leading a double life, which is so dangerous he does not know whether he would still be breathing seconds to come.
Part of the film’s appeal is Bryan Cranston in the role of Robert Mazur/Bob Musella. He fits very well in the role of a man who lives two closely intertwined lives, and his double life is clearly hectic: at one point he is taken off a primary school parents’ meeting to attend to an undercover surveillance operation, and in another scene his young daughter notices that the parcel he was delivered is leaking blood; all these sequences (and many similar ones) are very compelling. Mazur’s ordinary life is spiralling out of control, and the little delays, the little talks, and the little silences in the film speak volumes. Cranston knows how to play a likeable character whose mere presence could say “power” – but that power is not “showy”, “in-your-face” power, but hidden and enticing in itself, and, in his best suit, Cranston’s Musella is irresistible.
Cranston’s Mazur is also sympathetic. Mazur is told to “play with the mob”, “snort cocaine with the mob”, “f*** with the mob” to be the mob, and his Musella does an excellent imitation of all of the above. Despite all that, the audience never doubts one second that what they see in Mazur is the man of morals or “one of us”, who stays faithful to his wife despite the temptations and the absolute pressure to commit immoral actions to stay alive. Part of the drama of the movie is also in that: in a man who is torn between conflicting moral issues, and in a question of how far a man is prepared to go and act out of character to the detriment of others. What we see in Mazur is also what the bad guys in the movie partly see in him, and that is why they begin trusting him as they would their dearest of friends. It is just that easy to.
Although The Infiltrator does not break any new grounds and suffers from some plot confusion, these defects could be easily overlooked. The film is rather understated, but has a purpose of staying both realistic and entertaining throughout. It is also well-acted and clever; a real treat for the fans of drug trafficking/undercover operations films who would love Cranston’s performance and tense atmosphere.
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