The Infiltrator

Fine performances, and some very tense moments aside, The Infiltrator fails to offer anything new.

Watching The Infiltrator it’s hard not to make comparisons with Breaking Bad, the iconic television show that made Bryan Cranston’s character of Walter White such a tragic, relatable everyman. The backdrop of both that show and Cranston’s new film is the war on drugs and in both medium’s he plays roles that require him to walk that tightrope between an ordinary good guy and a pretend badass. That though is as far as the comparison goes.

The Infiltrator is set in the 80’s, with onscreen reminders that this was the era of the payphone, spending family time playing board games and having bad hairdo. Cranston plays Robert Mazur, a customs agent who goes undercover to bust drug dealers. Risky as his job is, the Reagan administrations zero tolerance on drug crime results in him becoming involved in a massive, large-scale operation to take down the Columbians, in particular the Medellin cartel presided over by Pablo Escobar. He is paired with John Leguizamo’s crazed, loose canon Emir and together they pretend to be money launderers for the cartel in a perilous game that puts both their personal lives and careers on the line.

It becomes clear quite early on that The Infiltrator is a showcase of its stars abilities to straddle complex characters, including that of the usually underappreciated Leguizamo, who provides both much needed comic relief and ethnic rifts. But the linchpin here is Cranston. His Mazur for example is a family man but as Bob Musella, the fictitious CEO of the money laundering company, he needs to deal with the muck of the world. In a restaurant scene revelatory of Cranston’s gifted range, he transforms from being a husband (Mazur) out with his wife for an anniversary dinner to an angry, trash-talking executive (Musella) flirting with his secretary, so that he can keep his covert operation alive. The script has enough moments such as these to punctuate the otherwise pedestrian storytelling with engagement potential, even if this is never fully realized. What the film lacks though is the tragic irony of the situation that Mazur is in, something that Infernal Affairs and to a lesser extent it’s inferior remake The Departed had plenty of.

The dilemma of the principled man in a dishonorable world gives way in the third act to an act of moral ambivalence that should not exist. Mazur is on the right side of the ideological conflict and of this there is no doubt. But when him and his pretend undercover fiancé befriend the family of a close associate of the Medellin syndicate and then feel remorseful over having to take them out, it’s never explained or clear why this ambiguity exists, coming across more as a plot weakness. The films lopsided direction and some very incongruous editing (excitement gives way to confusion because of how erratic some of the onscreen transitions are) turn what should have been intricate into downright familiar. Though it remains watchable throughout, thanks to the fine performances, and some very tense moments, ultimately The Infiltrator fails to cut very deep or offer anything new.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and