In a summer filled with over-bloated sequels and movies that heavily rely on unconvincing CGI, maybe we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with The Infiltrator, a bright spot in what has been a considerably weak and disappointing summer thus far. Led by a layered, enthralling performance from Bryan Cranston and centered around the drug cartel of Pablo Escobar, The Infiltrator stands head and shoulders above almost everything else that has been released during this dismal summer.
In 1986, federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) goes undercover to infiltrate the trafficking network of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Working with fellow agents Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), Mazur poses as a slick, money-laundering businessman named Bob Musella. Gaining the confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s top lieutenant, Mazur must navigate a vicious criminal underworld where one wrong move could cost him everything.
While blood is spilt from time to time in The Infiltrator, facial expressions and dialogue-heavy scenes play a more pivotal role. Much like director Brad Furman’s, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Infiltrator shows us a main character trying to do his job while also taking into consideration what his actions and consequences will mean for others. The Infiltrator’s near-impeccable characterization study might get too heavy on drama at times, but there’s certainly plenty of humor to keep things fresh. And thanks to a sharp script from Ellen Brown Furman, The Infiltrator keeps us informed and entertained as viewers are thrust down the rabbit hole of uncovering Pablo Escobar’s dangerous network of powerful friends.
As deals are made gaining trust is not as simple as a conversation and handshake. Bryan Cranston’s duplicity keeps our attention one minute by giving us clarity to the strains of being an undercover agent, and then goes off the wall with his fictitious money-laundering character the next. In a memorable scene involving a cake, Cranston, who has not stood out in anything significant recently, shows off the wide range of acting that we have come to know from his days as Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad; one could even argue that Cranston gives the best movie performance of his career here as well.
While Cranston might be the main star in The Infiltrator, a strong supporting cast feeds off his presence. John Leguizamo (Bloodline), who plays Cranston’s undercover partner Emir Abreau, delivers the movie’s most laughs. Legizamo’s Abreau and Cranston’s Robert Mazur have an odd-buddy cop relationship that helps bring levity when the movie needs time to breathe. Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) brings comfort and coherence as good-hearted agent Kathy Ertz in her first undercover mission while Benjamin Bratt (Traffic) gives a solid performance as Robert Alcaino, one of Pablo Escobar’s main pawns.
Director Furman may have also taken a couple of notes from the Netflix series Narcos (which is also about Pablo Escobar’s drug reign). Fans of that show certainly will enjoy The Infiltrator for many of the same reasons: grainy, but spot-on, cinematography to give viewers an 80’s vibe, along with realistic settings, luscious scenery, and, of course, drug-busting. From capturing small fish in a bowling alley to headlining a drug bust that saw more than 100 indictments, Furman has certainly grasped onto an era that saw a spike in cocaine distribution infused by power and corruption from people from all corners of the world.
The allure of crime dramas in movies and television has certainly made a strong comeback in recent years. And while occasional clichés appear here and there in The Infiltrator, the movie works on almost every level as an exceptional crime drama that we don’t typically see this early in the year. And that alone is worth the price of admission.