There seems to be a continued fascination with the international war on drugs, past and present. Studios would probably say we have an addiction to watching films on the topic. Countless tv show, films and after school special have been dedicated to reminding us of the evil of drugs and addiction. Like addicts, we need a stronger and stronger product to achieve the same high we once felt. The Infiltrator is not that stronger product because it’s moderate approach to the genre leaves us feeling mostly numb.
These in-too-deep, undercover films follow a predictable progression. There is usually a detective or federal agent who is staring down the barrel of retirement only to voluntarily go back into the fray for one final adventure but ends up staring down a variety of different barrels along the way. He becomes so engrossed in their work that at times we even forget he is a good guy since his original intention was a purely selfish one stemming from an addiction to the thrill of the job. The villains are household names of legendary drug lords that have been portrayed in every medium from comic book to television. Even these “based on a true story” characters come off as common and lacking any unique elements to make them stand out. Have we heard this story before? Overkill is an apt description.
Even a “true story” can have such an air of falsehood. The only thing that feels real in the story are the events verifiable by a quick Google search or that can be recalled from new reports if you were alive at the time. Everything else, including a big brunt of the scenes that were meant to give the film emotional gravitas, feel trite and sometimes forced. That probably has less to do with Robert Mazur’s book of the same name and more with Ellen Sue Brown’s screenplay. Brown gave this true story the Hollywood treatment, making every character fit into an overused archetype, no matter how important their accomplishments are.
Despite the character tropes, these characters still manage to be fairly compelling, all thanks to the actors behind them. Bryan Cranston plays a familiar role, but it suits him just fine. Like his Breaking Bad days, he channels both extremes of his psyche while playing another well-intentioned, but fundamentally flawed character. He is able to portray the story’s technical hero while also coming off as the villain. In league with the very predictable approach of the film, they cast Hollywood’s go-to villain when you need an ethnically ambiguous drug lord: Benjamin Bratt. As always, he delivers in a part that is probably second-nature to him by now. John Leguizamo lends his natural charm and humor to the film, leavening moments with his effortless comedic repartee.
Brad Furman directs this film with a very similar approach as Runner Runner and The Lincoln Lawyer. Furman sacrifices a new narrative style for character focus, making each film into an underdog story with a clearly defined hero. This approach is what made Lawyer so compelling, but his continued sacrificial approach to a film’s story keeps bring back diminishing returns. Even though Furman uses some of the same techniques with less effectiveness in
Even though Furman uses some of the same techniques with less effectiveness in The Infiltrator, he manages to introduce some new stylistic choices that may be staples for this kind of period pieces, but are new to Furman. There are several scenes that are beautifully framed and efficiently soundtracked to imitate a music video. It is used as a reinforcement and reminder of the decadence and style typically associated with the 80’s. Moreso, it offers a refreshing reprieve from the dull commonality of the rest of the film. In the end, maybe that’s all we can hope for, but ultimately the courageous true story behind The Infiltrator deserves much more than the coat of beige paint it smothered in.
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/10 stars)