An undercover cop on one last assignment before retirement? Check. A contentious relationship with his overzealous partner? Check. Rumblings of an emotional connection with his undercover fiancé? Check. A crumbling marriage due to his risky profession? Check. Multiple sequences in which he narrowly avoids being founded out by the dangerous criminals? Check. A taut and intense thriller that uses clichés to its advantage? Swing and a miss.
Brad Furman adheres too much to the crime thriller checklist that his film suffers because of it. Despite being based on fact (being adapted from the book written by the subject matter, Robert Mazur), nothing in the film feels real. Everything seemingly happens because it was written in the screenplay that way (credited to Ellen Brown Furman). None of Mazur’s complications in his operation come across as organic. Troublesome events only occur to drive the story along as opposed to the story being shaped around the events. These events have all been seen before, seemingly only existing because of this reason. Other undercover cop thrillers showcased the melodrama on display here, therefore Furman must abide by them.
This lack of inspiration sinks “The Infiltrator.” The direction is too workmanlike when it’s in dire need of a raw and honest approach. Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) certainly deserves better! His story, of going undercover to bust the notorious Pablo Escobar, is frightening and exciting. Too bad that doesn’t translate the screen. The story we get in the film is tired and plodding.
Credit goes to Bryan Cranston for trying to capture the manic nature of Mazur’s life (at least someone was inspired). He delivers a fine and understated performance that goes a long way in setting the mood for the film. He approaches Mazur as he should, strong-willed but understandably shaken. The only reason we believe he’s ever in danger is because he always acts like he is. He’s normally calm and calculated when undercover, as seen in the film’s opener, but is losing his grip under the pressure of capturing Pablo Escobar.
Furman relies too much on Cranston’s performance, however, never backing the star up. Those moments of danger never feel threatening because the direction never handles it as such. Every threat occurs because it has to, not because it should.
Take for example Mazur’s scary portrayal of a drug lord in the presence of his wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey). It plays out over their anniversary dinner, which is interrupted by one of Escobar’s henchmen. Robert has to pretend that his wife is his secretary (to not blow the fiancé cover), meaning he must snap when the anniversary cake arrives. He lambastes the waiter for “screwing up,” shouting at the top of his lungs and shoving said waiter’s face violently into the cake. This scene would work if it were built to, but it’s not. Robert has been nothing but calm and calculated in his undercover persona, with this outburst going against that. The henchman shouldn’t buy into Robert’s outburst. It only occurs because the script calls for a scenario that drives a wedge in Robert’s marriage.
Other relationships don’t fare much better. Mazur’s partnership with the loose cannon Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) is one-dimensional. The two engage in hackneyed dialogue, such as the both of them questioning if they have the other’s back. Furman plays off their differing personalities, but doesn’t get much mileage out of it. Emir’s frenzied personality is utilized more for comic relief than endangerment. His lust for lunacy is hinted at, but never explored. Doing so would’ve helped in building up the tension, but Furman doesn’t seem too concerned with doing that.
All Furman seems concerned with is getting his film from point A to point B. Dangerous situations only exist because they help in guiding “The Infiltrator” to the finish line. Furman relies on cheap jump scares to highlight the immediacy of the situation as opposed to developing dread. Any time Mazur is in danger, we don’t feel it. Too often he has a gun placed against his head, both figuratively and literally, that we never buy that the trigger is going to be pulled. Mazur feels invincible when he should be vulnerable. Cranston plays him as vulnerable, but Furman doesn’t direct him as such.
The selling point of “The Infiltrator” is Bryan Cranston. His performance is good, but that’s not nearly enough to recommend this film. He’s put in better performances in better films, such as “Trumbo,” “Argo,” and “Drive” (not to mention his breakout performance in the hit show “Breaking Bad.”). I’d advise watching any of those instead.
Final Rating: C