It’s not quite one of those true stories that you wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t something that actually happened. It’s simply intriguing, a story more compelling to explore on your own than perhaps to dramatize into a cinematic experience.
Following the events leading up to the biggest drug bust in American history, an event in 1985 that shocked the cartel lead by Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar, The Infiltrator features a great lead performance and filmmaking that does its level best to keep this story worthy on screen.
Indeed, it’s a solid crime tale, but one that finds itself in a tricky situation. It’s attempting to tell a lengthy story in a viewable amount of time, balancing the minutiae with the general. It follows U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) who goes undercover and finds himself maybe starting to lose control of his real life – he may be in too deep. The Infiltrator also tries to make the stakes high and the scope big while keeping the story focused on the individual less everything becomes abstract and inconsequential. In fact, it tries especially hard to make the intimate important, stressing the relationships created by Mazur when undercover as genuine even though he’s not himself.
All of it adds up to a satisfying, engaging, if workmanlike film that skirts over-dramatization while also earnestly grasping at the more personal parts of the story.
Cranston delivers an impressive performance, holding up the film, and reminding you of his turn as Walter White. Instead of pretending to be a good guy while dealing drugs, it’s the opposite, and Cranston’s ability to switch on and off between these characters, and allowing the viewer to study which reactions are real and which aren’t is mighty impressive.
John Leguizamo is equally game as Cranston’s partner who has a little more grit and gumption when it comes to the sordid and murky. The two of them move deeper into a tangled web of corrupt banks, violent henchmen, and charming benefactors – it becomes both bewildering and almost funny. As Mazur is forced to fully transform – a slipup where he says he has a fiance forces the agency to in fact create one for him, played by Diana Kruger – and in that there lies the tension.
That we know things don’t wind up great for a lot of people matters not. The specifics are engrossing and the journey is fascinating, and director Brad Furman, on a script written by Ellen Sue Brown based on a book by Mazur, does well to focus more on the personal than the grand. It’s about drugs, yes, and some politics, but it’s more about relationships, the ones forged, faked, and forgone.
The Infiltrator, therefore, in its restrained, careful storytelling doesn’t swell to a dramatized finish like in another real life tale Argo, nor does it look to challenge the viewer with violence and morality in the drug film Sicario. Rather, it’s almost bittersweet, as the finale reminds that while the big picture is clear, however closer you move in, things get messy and muddled.