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REVIEW: The Infiltrator

REVIEW: The Infiltrator

17 September 2016 Stephanie Brandhuber

Swapping blue meth for blow, Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame is back to drug-drama antics in new crime thriller, The Infiltrator. The high point of this film “based on a true story” is undeniably Cranston’s powerhouse performance as undercover cop Robert Mazur. Sadly, however, even Cranston’s incredible ability to break bad can’t save this movie from feeling overly familiar and just a bit clichéd.

Set in 1980s Reagan-era USA, The Infiltrator is based on the experiences of real-life federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) who goes undercover to infiltrate the trafficking network of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Despite being given the opportunity to retire early and settle back into family life with his wife and kids, Mazur decides to tackle one more mission and comes up with an innovative way of helping the war on drugs. Instead of following the narcotics to get to the “bad guys”, Mazur decides it would be infinitely smarter to follow the money trail all the way to Escobar and his henchmen. To take down these coke-dealing linchpins, Mazur becomes Bob Musella, a high-rolling businessman who launders mountains of drug-cartel cash by hiding these millions of dollars in legitimate investments. His shady alter ego sets up a vast network of criminal clients and begins to climb the ladder of corruption.
 
In order to infiltrate himself into this underworld of crime, Robert has to deliver the most convincing performance of his life. This, however, proves difficult at times because of Mazur’s inherent goodness. Unlike Cranston’s Walter White in Breaking Bad, Robert Mazur is less quick to be consumed by the deviousness of his alter ego. This is best seen when he runs into a potentially cover-blowing situation: when out at a club with a group of drug barons, he refuses sex from a stripper in an attempt to remain loyal to his wife, claiming to his unsuspecting contacts that he has a fiancée to whom he wants to be faithful. Eventually, this hastily conceived lie leads to Mazur being given a federally issued fiancée, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), another undercover agent whose life depends on Robert’s ability to convince others that he’s a criminal. As the ersatz agent-couple becomes increasingly embroiled with these drug lords, bonds are made, relationships are formed, and the line between felon and friend becomes all too unclear.
 
Drug lords, trigger-happy addicts, and duplicitous agents should be a recipe for an exciting thriller. And it has been - many, many times before. Ultimately, that’s the problem with The Infiltrator  - not only has it been done before, but it’s also been done better. With classic crime dramas like Donnie Brasco, The Departed, and Scarface already dominating this genre, an undercover drug plotline needs to have something pretty special to make it stand out. And, despite the stellar performances by Cranston and his costars, the actual storyline of the film cannot bear the weight of its own familiarity, and there is a distinct lack of tension in the material throughout. The build-up of suspense is key in this type of film and the audience should feel the same anxiety that is consuming the double agent. Sadly, in The Infiltrator, this is not the case.
 
With a number of plot-holes and a heavy amount of exposition at the start, The Infiltrator’s main saving grace is Bryan Cranston’s masterful acting abilities. His smooth transitioning between personas is incredible, and he clearly has the time spent perfecting his role as Walter White to thank for this. His seamless swapping from good-guy agent to violent criminal is expertly executed, and shows what a master Cranston is at getting under the skin of a polar opposite alter ego. He shifts personality-gears so swiftly and so smoothly that it’s a joy to watch him maneuver between the two personas, even if the context in which he does so doesn’t always provide him with the tension needed.
 
Unfortunately, despite Cranston’s best efforts to infiltrate some drama into his role, the film as a whole suffers from director Brad Furman’s insistence on giving his audience a collection of clichés. Perhaps one day, we’ll see Cranston in a role to rival his Breaking Bad success. Until then, we’re left with this cocaine caper that is unlikely to blow anybody away.

3/5 stars.

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