The Infiltrator and all the images you see in this review are owned by Broad Green Pictures
Directed by Brad Furman
So… Bryan Cranston is going back to the well, huh? You can hardly blame him though! Breaking Bad is one of the most influential and critically praised shows to ever come out, so if anyone deserves to be in a movie about drugs and violence, then it’s the guy who made that shit work for five seasons! Does Bryan Cranston come out on top once again with a movie tailor made for his particular set of skills, or will this just be an actor trying to relive their glory days before sinking back into obscurity and finding a niche in shitty comedies (*cough* Why Him? *cough*)? Let’s find out!!
The movie which is BASED ON A TRUE STORY (ugh…) follows Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) who is a Federal Agent working for US Customs and primary does undercover work to bust drug dealers. Apparently petty drug dealers work with a lot of fifty year old dudes who look like Target managers, but I guess that just makes Robert that much more of an unassuming figure. Anyway, his colleague Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) gives him a tip that some big players in the Columbian Cartel (at the time being led by Pablo Escobar as this movie takes place in the eighties) will be in town and are in the market for a money launderer (at least I think that’s what the tip is about) and so he starts posing as an accountant who’s more than willing to handle the Cartel’s money; hoping to bust them for the drugs and the bankers at The Bank of Credit and Commerce International who are willingly doing this for them. Of course with any undercover work, there’s always the danger of getting himself and his fellow agents caught, especially Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) who is playing his pretend fiancée who’s only part of this mission because Robert fucked up at one of the meetings with the drug lords; not to mention that with any undercover work there’s always a chance of getting in too deep. Can Robert bust these guys before getting a bullet in the back of the head or worse? Will his real life crumble to pieces as he gets more and more engrossed in his work? WILL HE BE THE ONE WHO KNOCKS!?
This movie is an absolute mess which is a shame considering how good some of the individual elements are in here. The acting is great (Bryan Cranston remains one the greatest dramatic actors working today) and there are some scene of genuine tension, but you never know what the fuck is going on. No wait, scratch that. It’s pretty damn simple what is going on, but the movie does everything in its power to obscure this from the audience and goes out of its way to undercut its own story by leaving out crucial details that I guess we’re supposed to intuit; not to mention the subplots that get dropped all over the god damn place. Whether the writer wrote a shitty script, the director filmed it poorly, or the editor absolutely butchered it (or maybe all three) the movie that they released to theaters is an incomplete one that rivals that of Batman v Superman in terms of botched storytelling and basic story structure. All that potential, and it was completely wasted.
For the first half hour of this I had no idea what the hell was going on. Bryan Cranston gets a new assignment after just finishing his last one, but as far as who he’s working for, what the goal is, and how they’re gonna go about it, is almost entirely a mystery as we’re thrown right in the middle without anyone there to catch us up on what the hell is going on. Look at a movie like Face/Off which takes itself SO much less seriously, yet stages this aspect of the story beautifully. We know who’s undercover (Sean Archer), we know who KNOWS he’s undercover (CCH Pounder, the surgeon, and some other guy) and we know what the fuck they’re after (a bomb). Now admittedly Face/Off isn’t a complex story, but that’s not why the plan makes sense; it’s because they took the time to explain it! You want a less silly example? Look at another Cranston movie, namely Argo. It’s the same thing there where the undercover mission comes together and is laid out before we see him actually going to Iran and mingling with the bad guys. Here? They just throw you in with nary an explanation or establishing shot. John Leguizamo enters the movie like a junkie looking for a handout, and it took me a good ten minutes to realize he was… something. I STILL don’t know exactly what the fuck he was. Is he an informant? A cop? A Federal Agent? I have no idea, but he gives Cranston a tip and then we cut to him listening in on meetings that Leguizamo is having with drug lords. No conversation with Cranston’s bosses about this, no game plan established for the audience, just get right into stealing names off of gravestones and setting up recording equipment to capture… something. Eventually it becomes clear that Cranston’s plan is to be a money launderer for the Colombian Cartel, but that’s made clear well after the plan is already underway.
That’s only an issue with the first act though as the story does eventually take shape. What becomes an issue in the rest of the movie are the subplots of which I can name at least three that go absolutely nowhere and significantly hurt the film because of that. The biggest waste here is the one with his wife and kids; none of whom are given anything interesting to do in the story and are just there for background noise. The wife at least gets to react to shit that’s going on in the movie, but she’s so unlikable here that it’s hard to care about anything she’s bringing up. I mean, what part of HE’S AN UNDERCOVER FEDERAL AGENT was unclear? Maybe if the movie actually wanted to take this somewhere like how the events of this investigation irrevocable harm their marriage (or bring to light longstanding issues), then it could have meant something, but the movie doesn’t have time for that. Instead, she just shows up every once in a while to express here displeasure about everything while having zero impact on the plot. By doing this, it leaves it mostly up to the audience to impose their own feelings onto her character so that we can sympathize with her (like how war films sometimes leave characterization of the soldiers to a minimum so that those in the audience can project their own friends and family into those roles), but the movie seems to actively discourage that considering how much time we spend with Cranston on this very important case, and we don’t see the degradation of their home life to the degree that we can stand behind her on nothing else besides the fact that she’s the symbolic suffering wife.
John Leguizamo fairs better in this as he does have a rather large role to play in the first half of the movie and he’s pretty solid in the part. Unfortunately he does come back up once or twice in the second half after he’s been naturally fazed out of the plan just to have some isolated scenes that I don’t think actually mean anything to the big picture or to the plan they’ve hatched, and yet it ends up being one of the most unresolved aspects of this movie. There’s a really intense scene that shakes him up REALLY badly and it’s clear he’s not getting the help he needs as he unsuccessfully tries to call Cranston but doesn’t get through. This is never followed up on though and he seems perfectly fine the next time we see him which is like twenty minutes later! I know this movie is already long at just over two hours, but if there was more to his story than what ended up on the screen, they should have left it in as leaving it out makes it damn near incomprehensible. Oh, and I think there’s a subplot about Cranston going to England to take down Pablo Escobar personally, but that goes absolutely nowhere. Maybe it was part of the true story (ugh…) where he gave his superiors this hair brained scheme but was told not to do it. If that’s the case though, then I don’t see the significance of putting that in the movie when it has zero impact on anything that happens afterwards.
Now there are some good aspects of this despite my endless ranting. The acting across the board is fine with Cranston and Leguizamo being standouts here. The actors playing the Cartel big wigs are fine too, though they very much lacking in terms of depth. It’s shot competently enough and looks appropriately eighties, and the movie also manages to avoid glorifying the drug war as things are clearly rotten all around Cranston and this one operation he’s doing for the government and it ends up keeping things grounded instead of trying to make it look more patriotic than it was. Also, despite how unintelligible this movie is, they manage to pull out all the stops for the final scene which feels like the perfect culmination of a much better movie. I won’t get into details, but it’s clear what they’re going for as Bryan Cranston has to confront the fact that he did indeed lead a second life instead of just pretending to be someone else and the consequences of that are staring him right in the face. It’s a powerful moment that works fine because of how obvious the message here is, but it could have been so much more if the movie up to this point made us actually believe what Bryan Cranston is feeling. The bad guys in this don’t get enough to do for them to be seen as anything other than bad guys (it’s almost like the entire script was written for Bryan Cranston and maybe John Leguizamo) so when the shit hits the fan it’s hard to feel anything more than relief that these killers and crooks are going to jail.
In Breaking Bad, there’s a scene from season three where Walt Jr is reading a book given to him by his uncle Hank about the guys who took down Pablo Escobar. Now the book in that episode is NOT the book this movie is based off of (the book in Breaking Bad is Killing Pablo), and while that would have been AMAZING, there’s still an apt comparison to be made here. In the episode, Walt Jr (quoting Hank) says that Good Guys never get ink like the Bad Guys do. Well… this movie kind of proves why that happens so often and why Breaking Bad in particular was a show that managed to pull of what this movie was going for. The reason why there’s a lack of emotional investment in anyone’s story here is that there seems to be a certain level of built in reverence expected from the audience BECAUSE it’s about a Good Guy and it doesn’t feel the need to explain much or to do more than basic characterization. Movies and shows about bad guys (Breaking Bad, Goodfellas, etc) don’t have that supposed built in appeal and have to work to convince their audiences to like the pieces of shit that their stories are about. There’s obviously more to dissect here (the innate appeal of an outlaw as a symbol of power to a certain extent) but it’s a big factor as to why this movie feels like it’s on autopilot or was only half though out before they began filming. If you’re a huge Cranston fan or even a big Leguizamo booster, than there might be something here to enjoy as the movie seems to know where its strength is coming from, but even then this is not worth sitting through in a movie theater. If nothing else, I’m guessing this gonna be better than Why Him? which he’s doing with James Franco. Have you seen the trailer for that? Wow…
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One thought on “Cinema Dispatch: The Infiltrator”
The Infiltrator is well told true story about U.S. undercover custom agents and their involvement in taking down the Medellin Cartel. Yes, you’ve seen films with a similar plots but this still manages to stand on its own. Fine acting which gradually increases in intensity and tension should keep you entertained to the very end. Great acting by Bryan Cranston,John Leguizamo and the rest of the cast.