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The Infiltrator benefits from great production values and a solid cast, but an unfocused narrative and pacing problems keep it from reaching the heights it aspires to.
Directed by Brad Furman and based on a true story, The Infiltrator stars Bryan Cranston as Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs special agent who went undercover as a corrupt businessman in the 1980s and helped take down Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering operation. However, the movie cannot decide what particular aspect of the story it wants to focus on.
Is The Infiltrator about the physical and psychological toll of a long-term undercover operation and how it nearly cost Robert Mazur his marriage? Kind of. Is it about how undercover agents can form intense interpersonal relationship with the people they’re trying to bring down? Sort of. Is it about the fascinating true story of one of the biggest money-laundering busts in the world? A bit. The Infiltrator is a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
It has the right ingredients, but doesn’t devote nearly enough time to any of them. The end result is lackluster at best and slightly confusing at worst. There are stretches of the movie where it was hard to tell what was going on or why and oddly enough, it seemed to happen precisely when the movie was trying to raise the stakes or catch you off guard – but any possible tension or unease was almost completely defused by confusion. When Muzer receives a small, bloody coffin in the mail for instance, the movie takes far too long before letting us know who it was from and why it was being sent.
What The Infiltrator lacks most of all is urgency. It is easy to compare the movie to the Netflix series Narcos, which comes to mind because of the Pablo Escobar connection. The show, particularly in its first season, suffered from excessive voice-over narration, which at times made it come across more like a documentary, but it still properly conveyed the scale and the stakes of the story it was trying to tell. The Infiltrator does not have that kind of narrative glue that would have made its disparate strands come together as a cohesive whole. The characters know and understand the stakes a lot more than the audience does, which almost makes the movie feel disinterested in its own plot. When Bryan Cranston and Diane Kruger get really emotional over betraying Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his family, their performances were authentic, but felt nothing because the movie doesn’t help the audience build the connection that the characters form between themselves.
The writing is also spotty at times, leading to a few clunky moments – fortunately, the cast is so well-rounded and talented that they mostly make it work. John Leguizamo in particular seems to be having a lot of fun with his performance. Production wise, the sets, costumes and music are excellent and very evocative of the 1980s. The cinematography relies a little too heavily on extreme close-ups, but apart from that, is pretty solid throughout as well.
Overall, The Infiltrator is pretty mediocre. It lacks focus and agency, which makes the efforts of a talented cast feel wasted. What should be a compelling story inspired by true events ends up rather dull and confusing instead.