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Friday, July 15, 2016

Movie Review: #TheInfiltrator

The Infiltrator is a competent but all too familiar cop drama.

Review by Matt Cummings

Actor Bryan Cranston is well known for coming up with unexpected solutions to his characters' predicaments. But while his newest film The Infiltrator sees him bring another A-game performance, the film itself doesn't have much to say that we haven't seen before. It's really tense drama by the numbers, workman-like in its production and entirely too long.

Cranston plays former federal customs agent Robert Mazur, who becomes embroiled in a case to take down none other than the MedellĂ­n Cartel. A gang who took drug dealing and money laundering to new heights in the 80's, the cartel was also a savage one, utilizing brutal techniques to maintain loyalties. It's in this charged environment that the rather quiet Mazur dives headfirst, hoping to cut the head off this beast before it completely engulfs the country. To do that, he'll need a dedicated team of agents: the hotshot Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) to pose as his fiancee. Assuming the role of baller-status money launderer Bob Musella, Mazur takes a different approach than in previous cases: he's after the money now, hoping Emir's contact will take him past the petty pushers and into the cartel's upper echelon. That person arrives in Pablo Escobar's right-hand man Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), a fairly decent human being with a loving family who develops a strong sense of family for Musella. But as Mazur goes deeper undercover, his web of lies threaten the safety of his team, his family, and his very self.

The Infiltrator isn't awful by any means; in fact it's quite good. Tension is kept tight by Director Brad Furman, while the writing by Ellen Sue Brown takes us deep into these characters. Cinematographer Joshua Reis crafts a stunningly good look, putting his film through various filters to get that 80's VCR look. Cranston is - as usual - excellent in this role as the incorruptible hero, tracing the money to its source but also feeling the tension of putting him, his family, and his people at risk. Mazur loved the game - almost like the addiction that the cartels satisfied - and Reis captures plenty of great shots of that stress. Leguizamo, Kruger, and Bratt are also very solid, mostly inhabiting their roles to lend an air of authenticity.

But The Infiltrator is also problematic. Pacing is way too slow in the exposition-heavy first act, tripped up by small drug busts and a meandering plan that finally gets going in the second act. Plot holes - like Mazur taking his wife out to dinner while he's actually undercover and bringing his Aunt (Olympia Dukakis) into the game - ridicule the great acting here. It's likely that the cartels do their homework, and either one of these screwups would have resulted in Mazur's death. Furman really paints a by-the-numbers game here, content with what he gets from his troupe without delving into the real dangers of the job. All films need the audience to accept their 'universe' even if the story is based on true events. The Infiltrator's ingredients are pretty but unrewarding, plagued by an ending in which we felt a zero sense of danger for our leads. This is Donnie Brasco, Black Mass, A Most Violent Year, and every other gritty cop drama mashed into an appealing but overall unsatisfying smoothie.

Although it's based on actual events, there is a better story somewhere else here, perhaps focusing on the effect of Mazur's efforts on both himself and his crew. Films like these will create a familiar sense, something which made early attempts (The Godfather series, The Untouchables) so memorable I'd love to have witnessed a different kind of tale told by The Infiltrator, one that doesn't continue to elevate Escobar or perhaps one that shows the cost that people like Mazur could have paid in the service of his country. That was best explored in this year's excellent Triple 9, a film you should check out before seeing this one.

The competent but unremarkable The Infiltrator completes the trifecta of blandness that has plagued 2016, joining Unwanted Films and Sequelitis at a party that few are attending. Still, it's one of the best of the season, which tells you just how bad things have gotten. Cranston (as always) keeps this thing afloat, and the cinematography is excellent. See it, but be prepared to stick your finger out constantly at all the tropes you've seen before.

The Infiltrator is rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material and has a runtime of 127 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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