Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE INFILTRATOR | 127 min | R
Director: Brad Furman
Starring: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Olympia Dukakis, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt, Juliet Aubrey, Rubén Ochandiano, Simón Andreu, Yul Vazquez
The undercover cop genre is a prolific one that ranges from the serious (like WHITE HEAT, NARC, DONNIE BRASCO, SERPICO, PRINCE OF THE CITY, INFERNAL AFFAIRS and its remake THE DEPARTED), to the goofy (like 21 JUMP STREET and POINT BREAK). We’re not exactly becoming jaded – it just takes a lot for us to be impressed. Although the ensemble and energy of co-writer/ director Brad Furman’s THE INFILTRATOR are good, the film as a whole comes up a little short.
They don’t call U.S. Customs agent Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston) “the infiltrator” because he doesn’t like to infiltrate. Actually, no one calls him that – he just does it. However, lately, the job’s been taking its toll. Feeling like an absentee husband and father, forgetting anniversaries, and bailing on parent-teacher conferences, Bob is almost ready to retire. Almost. One more job and then he’s out – at least that’s what he’s told his wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey). And it’s a big one. He initiates a revolutionary idea to follow the drug cartel’s cash from the bottom to the top. Paired with fellow customs agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo, who is this film’s MVP), informant Dominic (Joseph Gilgun), and newbie undercover agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), Bob’s journey takes him through treacherous places. He encounters money laundering cronies, such as Javier Ospina (Yul Vasquez), Gonzalo Mora Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano, playing this film’s Edgar Ramirez) and Sr. (Simón Andreu), and a head distributor (Benjamin Bratt) on the way to hooking the big fish – Pablo Escobar.
What sets Furman’s film apart from other undercover cop movies is the way it trusts the audience to pick up on what the actors are showing, not necessarily what they are saying. Ellen Sue Furman’s script doesn’t overstep, nor is it filled with an annoyance of expository speech dumps. It trusts the ensemble to do much of the heavy lifting through understated cues without relying on heavy dialogue-driven scenes. Trusting audiences to put the pieces together through subtle details, like how Bob successfully keeps his work and home life separate, and how an operation comes together, feels like a refreshing storytelling technique even if it isn’t. It also takes time to explore things other films of its ilk haven’t – like how fake identities are procured, or how far one commits to the bit when undercover, or what happens to the significant other when essentially abandoned. Also, Dukakis, in a tiny supporting role as Bob’s aunt, is incomparable. She’s like a ray of sunshine, lighting her scenes with Cranston on fire, reminding us that she should really be in more meaty mainstream movies.
Nevertheless, it’s not above criticism. The foundation almost collapses from the weight of an overstuffed cast of characters. What happened to the C.I.A.? The threat of that specialized kind of government interference disappears quickly. Even though he’s eventually explained, the guy Bob meets at the racetrack plays almost like a footnote. If not for the ring he sports, he’s almost a completely superfluous character. Kruger gets a little lost in the shuffle. She’s got a good introduction where you aren’t sure if she’ll blow it or not. However, shortly thereafter, she proves to be completely capable. The small handful of contrivances, while brief and rife with tension, should have been either elongated or excised completely. Set-ups and pay-offs come too quick for audiences, leading us feel cheated from a more dread-inducing, “oh he’s screwed now” reaction. Plus, the third act feels a tad rushed.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a perfectly suitable addition to the ever-growing genre.
THE INFILTRATOR opens on July 13.