Drug drama ‘The Infiltrator’ starts slow, pays off

Date Night | 14 Jul, 2016 |

It’s quite rare that I know little about a movie before I’m watching it. Normally I’m reminding myself of a film’s writer and director before the opening credits have a chance to kick in. The Infiltrator somehow slipped under my obsessive radar though: as I sat down to watch it, I hadn’t even seen a single trailer — all I knew was that Bryan Cranston starred and the plot involved Pablo Escobar to some degree.

And that’s likely all that I’ll remember about it in a few weeks. The Infiltrator is a decent little crime drama with a great payoff, but nothing new to offer whatsoever. If you’ve seen a movie about espionage and another about drug trade, you’ve essentially seen this movie. With artful efforts like Sicario and Cranston’s own Breaking Bad adding deep themes and characters to the genre, The Infiltrator skates by as an inessential diversion — though it is good enough to justify an afternoon at the local theater.

Bryan Cranston is Robert Mazur, a real-life U.S. government agent who infiltrated (thus the clever title from cleverly named production team ‘Good Films’) Pablo Escobar’s cartel operation. He caused enough trouble for Escobar’s drug web and the banks involved with it to get his own movie, but unfortunately The Infiltrator isn’t as singular as the man it attempts to immortalize.

Right off the bat, the dialogue is riddled with genre clichés. Every conversation sounds as if the person who wrote it shunned actual human interaction for months and only listened to crime audiobooks. The exchanges between government officials, criminals and even family members all suffer from a curious inauthenticity.

Upon a bit of research, I discovered that director Brad Furman commissioned his own mother to write the screenplay, despite her complete lack of experience. That’s sweet, but let’s leave hiring close family to the drug business.

The cast claws its way out of the familiar dialogue. Each central performer gives audiences a reason to stick around. Diane Kruger — the world’s youngest looking 39-year-old woman — and John Leguizamo feel natural while portraying people pretending to be other people, though the latter tends to overact when tension rises. After Breaking Bad, Cranston could legitimately begin a career as a drug lord, but his character here is only assuming one’s identity. This gives Cranston the opportunity to vigorously convey the frustrations of a double life (think the opposite of Walter White).

The Infiltrator’s greatest strength is without a doubt its escalation. Furman paces the harrowing events with a steady hand: as the movie goes on and the stakes increase, a sense of urgency and significance builds patiently. Thus the movie gets better and better every scene — and the third act’s payoff is nothing short of glorious. You may start the film disappointed, but you’ll leave satisfied.

Other than embarrassingly noticeable technical hiccups—the camera goes out of focus during some key moments and an editor color corrects each scene like it’s a different movie—The Infiltrator is put together well enough to warrant a light recommendation. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking.

★★★½ (3.5 out of 5)

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