‘The Infiltrator’ Keeps You on the Edge of Your Seat Despite the Familiar Story

Photo Credit: Broad Green Pictures

Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) is close to a life of retirement from dangerous undercover work with Customs. He could take the easy way out and spend time with his wife and kids. Instead, he decides to pursue one more case. That case turns out to be one of the most dangerous and biggest of his career.

Inspired by true events, I’m going to be honest and say I don’t know how much of the story was glitzed up for Hollywood and how much of the movie is true to life. It almost feels like the domino effect that has Mazur not only infiltrating a cartel, but also hooking bank officials into money laundering schemes in multiple countries is too good of a set up to be true. That being said, The Infiltrator doesn’t have the same feel as your typical sting movie or drug drama. There’s a grittiness to it that not all of the movies of the genre can capture. Obviously, there are certain beats that any movie about a big drug bust are going to hit. We have to build to a betrayal, we have to see the true danger unfold, and we have to believe that the good guys could end up in peril at any second. The Infiltrator delivers on all of that.

In fact, from the opening moments of the film with Cranston in a bowling alley, even though that first scene is highly amusing, you can still feel the tension already starting to pull tight. It’s an amazing build that nearly snaps over and over as each of the main characters who are undercover (Cranston, Diane Kruger, and John Leguizamo) all find themselves thisclose to a bullet or worse over the course of the film. You have to wonder how their real life counterparts did the job without having a nervous breakdown.

Broad Green Pictures

Cranston in particular is fantastic as someone just on the side of losing his cool. He always appears to be weighing his options and, just under the surface, worrying about getting caught. Even as Mazur is surrounded by these men who sell drugs and buy whatever (and whomever) they want, Cranston plays him as a man having a good time with friends who always has his eye on the door. Kruger’s Ertz feels a little more calculating and thoughtful than Mazur. She’s always actually one step ahead of everyone else in the room, and I especially love how often the script showcased that Mazur was impressed with her work; he’s had decades of experience, while this is her first undercover case. In fact, if anyone should be lauded as the hero, it should be Ertz. She's the one who comes up with the big plan and initiates most of the puzzle pieces that save them from exposure.

If you’ve seen Leguizamo’s work in the most recent season of Bloodline, you’ve got a little preview of the kind of performance you’re in for here. His Bloodline character is a little more explosive (and on the opposite side of the law), but here, he’s a Customs agent who rides the adrenaline high of undercover work, and you never quite know how far he’s going to go. He’s fantastic to watch as a result.

If I was disappointed by anything, it’s that there wasn’t more Amy Ryan and Joseph Gilgun. Ryan is a tremendously talented actress and she’s only in a handful of scenes (and I mean that in that I think I could count them on my fingers) to yell at Customs agents, and then she’s gone. Gilgun, playing a criminal who becomes a witness for the State, is mostly used for dramatic effect - as in to remind the audience that he knows firsthand how high the stakes are. He’s got such a great comedic zing to him though (as you can see in Preacher every week), that I wish he got to let loose a little more here.

I also could have done without the attempt at artistic overhead shots in various stripclubs that were provided for nothing other than to show the audience scantily clad women. You can argue that it’s setting the scene for nefarious individuals who need a place to discuss money laundering in private all you want, but you’re not going to convince me the scene couldn’t be set with a more straightforward panning of the room instead of closeups of pieces of women in motion, making them as much objects for the viewer as they are for the men being portrayed.

Those criticisms aside though, the film plays out like a taut thriller instead of an action piece. It definitely leaves you on the edge of your seat, even if you go in knowing who survives and who doesn’t. As you watch the Customs agents get deeper and deeper into their undercover roles you wonder if they’ve lost a bit of themselves along the way, and it’s not until the climax and the final sequences that you really get your answer.

The Infiltrator is well worth the price of admission and easily poised to be the kind of true-crime tale that makes you think twice about the world around you.