Film Review: The Infiltrator

An unfortunate mash-up of ambiguities, inauthenticity and ill-conceived performances is the real crime in this true-crime-based exposé.
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Even a promising premise and a cast that includes Oscar-nominated Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, European-born sensation Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt, John Leguizamo and Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan, The Infiltrator is a bust. The cast and genre might initially attract fans, but Brad Furman, directing from his mother Ellen Brown Furman’s adaptation of Robert Mazur’s memoirs, published in 2009, contrives a film that is too messy to follow or involve.

Mazur’s insider story, as set forth here, mainly takes place in mid-’80s Florida, where Mazur (Cranston), an undercover U.S. Customs agent fighting the drug war, realizes that law enforcement’s strategy must change so that agents follow the money, not the drugs. To get closer to the flow of ill-gotten dough, he goes undercover as Robert Musella (a name picked from a gravestone), a slick, shady businessman, to get cozy with traffickers, enablers (especially big banks like the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or BCCI) and ultimately drug lord Pablo Escobar.

In his crime-fighting orbit are punky fellow agent Emir Abreu (Leguizamo, again playing the street-smart Latino wiseguy), rookie undercover agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger, playing the role way too gorgeous, elegant and smart to be anyone’s “rookie”), Mazur’s hard-nosed boss Bonni (Amy Ryan, given way too little to do), and tough-guy mob enforcer Dominic (Joseph Gilgun), whom Mazur springs from prison so he can exploit the guy’s knowledge of the criminal world.

On the other side, Mazur’s invented Musella deals with Escobar top lieutenant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), rolling in ill-gained cash but showing it with class (the private jet, the mansion, the glamorous wife) and even some taste. But Musella also must deal with drug-dealing lowlifes Gonzalo Mora (Rubén Ochandiano) and his father Mora Senior (Simón Andreu) and laundry man Ospina (Yul Vazquez), a sybaritic enigma of few words and much sexual ambivalence.

On the personal side, Mazur is also a familiar middle-class family man with two kids and loyal wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), who manages (to a point) to put up with his challenging job, unsavory acquaintances and weird schedule.

While too often straining credibility or comprehension, the story wends its way toward a predictable if not entirely credible end. And Mazur’s efforts actually did help bring about the downfall of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International for its money-laundering activities.

But The Infiltrator is beset by too many problems, too many characters (Jason Isaacs and Michael Paré are among those with minor roles), too many ambiguities and redundancies. Among these are a pre-credit sequence of Mazur in an earlier undercover role as a sleazoid hanging out and flirting in a bowling alley. There’s an incident of a miniature, blood-soaked coffin sent to Mazur’s home, which begs the question of why the duped drug perps don’t know that Musella is really a law-enforcing family man. And there’s Mazur’s drama-inclined Aunt Vicky (an always appreciated Olympia Dukakis, but sadly and totally irrelevant here).

On view are the requisite car chases, cold-blooded murders, strippers at work, close calls, etc. but so many places, people and pieces don’t add up to an organic, cohesive, believable whole. Nor is there any resonance of the ’80s, as most of the film is interiors (apart from poolside) and shot in close-ups so production design can’t lend a hand to a period feel.

Most damaging is that the impressive talent accrued for the bigger roles is too actorly or, in the case of Leguizamo, too familiar. Cranston, so electric as Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo, is defused here, also the result of his lightning-fast undercover metamorphosis from his weasel undercover disguise to the phony, fast-talking financial huckster able to dupe the big banks and drug upper echelons as a successful business know-it-all who knows how to hide fortunes.

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