The Infiltrator is set in Florida in 1986, at the height of that decade’s War On Drugs and it follows a team of undercover customs officials led by Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) who orchestrated the biggest drug bust in customs history. And it’s a thrill ride all the way.
In the scene, and bust, that opens the movie, we see that Mazur’s both really good at this undercover thing and also injured. There’s no explanation for how he was injured given, but it’s a bad enough injury that he’s told that he could retire with full benefits. But he wants one last case, despite the major strain on Mazur’s marriage undercover work is causing. Mazur is partnered with Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and they don’t necessarily get along, since they have different styles – Abreu is far more willing to take crazy risks than Mazur is. Or so it seems.
That sounds like a buddy cop setup, and, trust me, that’s not what this movie is at all. But, as per their direct superior, Mazur needs Abreu to get in. And what they’re getting into is Mazur’s idea – instead of chasing the drugs, let’s chase the money.
Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) is the female agent who rounds out the team. She’s on her first (and only) undercover mission, needed because Mazur, who’s happily married, won’t have sex with a stripper and claims to be engaged and not wanting to screw it up. This requires proof of an actual fiancée, and Kathy’s who steps up. Mazur prefers to work alone, and now he’s got Abreu and Kathy to both worry about and either help or hinder his ascent into the high ranks of the money laundering side of the drug trafficking world.
What follows is a white knuckle ride that shows not only how vital it is for undercover agents to think on their feet, but also how luck does indeed play a part. There are at least five times where Mazur is almost unmasked as a Fed and while some of them he fixes or salvages, the others are only saved through sheer luck.
Mazur isn’t the only one who has to get out of a bad situation, and we see a great scene with Abreu where it’s his smarts that save both his life, his and the others’ covers, and the mission. Kathy, too, is quick on her feet and comes up with the perfect plan to get everyone in one place at one time.
One of the things this movie does exceptionally well is show not only the risks, planning, and execution that goes into this kind of long con, but it also makes you know the “bad guys”. And they are bad – killing people right and left, bringing in massive amounts of cocaine, and so on. But they’re also people, and the movie shows them three-dimensionally. Most of them are businesspeople who feel they’re just making things good for their important clients. That their clients are drug cartels is not an issue – clients are to be helped and protected. The drug runners see themselves filling a niche as well as supporting the American economy.
You start to feel like Kathy and Mazur – you like a lot of these people after you’ve spent time with them. There’s a part of you that starts rooting for the bad guys to escape, well, at least some of them, because you know them now and you like the nice person side of them. Interestingly enough, you never get the feeling that Abreu likes these people – he’s the most natural with them, the one they definitely think is “one of theirs”, and truly the reason the government could indeed get “in”, but he has no compunction about shooting these people, either.
This movie is loaded with stars in cameo roles, but none of those roles are “showy”. What you get, therefore, is a movie where all the acting is so good that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching people act. Jason Isaacs, Michael Paré, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt, and more besides all give amazing performances in that you believe what their characters are.
I took my Mum to see this, and we both really enjoyed it. This is not your typical mother-daughter flick, but she’s not the typical mother, either. This movie is rated R for language and violence and it earns it, particularly because the violence is very real. While she noticed the language – any time you’re around the drug crowd everyone’s cursing – I did not, other than one scene, where Mazur’s real and undercover lives cross in a frighteningly casual and dangerous way. Then I noticed that Mazur was cursing, but only because he had to be different around his wife than anything we’d seen before, or after.
My Mum’s only complaint with this movie was the musical score. She felt, and I have to agree, that the score could have and should have been more evocative of the 80’s. The soundtrack songs are fine and do their job, but the score is definitely more general cop thriller than setting the sounds of the 80’s period, and that was, for her, why she couldn’t say it was a full 5 stars. For me, I agreed with her assessment, and the reason it’s not a full 5 from me, either, is also why this review isn’t naming a lot of characters – I had trouble remembering who had what name, not only while watching but even after perusing IMDB. There was no issue following what was going on – the actors are uniformly distinct and so good that you know who’s who, in that sense. But the movie takes no time to clearly introduce anyone, so many times you find out someone’s real name and who they are in the grand scheme of things when the news is announcing their death.
But, honestly, these are quibbles. The biggest question is what this movie is doing as a summer release. This is definitely an Oscar Bait movie, and it just “feels” like it should have come out in Fall. However, if you’re someone who’s complaining that they don’t make movies for adults anymore, who doesn’t want to see just another big blockbuster that doesn’t ask you to think, or who wants to see a white knuckler of a movie with some of the best acting that will be on screen all summer, then The Infiltrator is for you.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Yul Vazquez, Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Joseph Gilgun
Director: Brad Furman
Writer: Ellen Brown Furman, based on Robert Mazur’s biography
Based on a true story, Federal agent Robert “Bob” Mazur (Bryan Cranston) goes deep undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug trafficking scene plaguing the nation in 1986 by posing as slick, money-laundering businessman Bob Musella. Teamed with impulsive and streetwise fellow agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and rookie agent posing as his fiancé Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), Mazur befriends Escobar’s top lieutenant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). Navigating a vicious criminal network in which the slightest slip-up could cost him his life, Mazur risks it all building a case that leads to indictments of 85 drug lords and the corrupt bankers who cleaned their dirty money, along with the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, one of the largest money-laundering banks in the world.
Official Website: TheInfiltrator.com/