When I first saw the trailer for The Infiltrator, I had high hopes, considering it concerns a U.S. Customs agent (Robert Mazur, for the record), responsible for nearly bankrupting the Medellín Cartel, which was an organized network of drug suppliers and smugglers originating in the city of Medellín, Colombia. If you were into cocaine in the 1970s or 1980s, this was your cartel.
The drug cartel operated throughout Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Peru, and the United States, as well as in Canada and Europe. It was founded and run by Ochoa Vásquez brothers Jorge Luis, Juan David and Fabio, together with Pablo Escobar, José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha and Carlos Lehder.
A little background is necessary here because the narrative can become a bit confusing at times with DEA, FBI, CIA and other operatives blending with undercover agents and drug dealers, smugglers, informants and high-price bank officials. The Infiltrator is based on Mazur’s own book of the same name.
I also was glad to see Bryan Cranston in the title role, coming off of his surprise Academy Award-nominated turn in “Trumbo.” Cranston, at 60 years of age, has become one of the most celebrated actors in the business thanks to his Emmy-winning role on AMC’s “Breaking Bad” TV series as well as recent appearances in acclaimed films like “Argo” and “Cold Comes the Night,” among others.
We first meet Cranston’s Mazur as a narc in a Miami bowling alley where, made up like a 1970s porn actor, he schmoozes a waitress and makes a minor drug bust. He suffers an injury (the wire he was wearing causes a serious burn) though and he is offered retirement at full pay. His wife, Evelyn, (Juliet Aubrey, “The Constant Gardener”), and family are thrilled with the news.
A co-worker Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo, “American Ultra”), tells Mazur he can put him onto some major drug smugglers, however, that peaks his interest. So, to make a long review a bit shorter, Mazur goes undercover as a wealthy businessman and makes an offer to these mid-level personnel to “launder” some of the cartel’s funds (which is now being done in Panama). Despite lukewarm support from his superior, Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan, “Bridge of Spies”), he dives deep into the part, but the deeper he goes, the more complicated layers he finds. His deception soon leads him through a myriad of conspirators, Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) bank executives (he admits he is laundering money for drug dealers and their response is, basically, “We don’t care”), all the way up to one of the group’s top men, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt, “Ride Along 2”). During these exploits, Mazur is almost killed at least three times, while everyone he is with seems to get shot at any given time. We see the gory deaths (including one in a bizarre voodoo ceremony), however, there is a strange disconnect here and we do not feel the danger his situation brings even though an informant graphically warns him, “They will make you die for days.”
Now joined by his “fiancee,” agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger, “Inglourious Basterds”), they befriend Roberto and his wife, Gloria (Elena Anaya, “The Skin I Live In”). Their friendship grows as the agents tag-team the couple with dinners, shopping trips, sporting events and, of course, planning of the “wedding.” With pressure from Escobar (he sends Mazur a calling card — a small “coffin” filled with blood), however, the officer has to persuade his government to release $10 million cartel funds frozen in Panama, as well as group of moneymen to release another $100 million to BCCI. It’s all very complicated, but the longer it goes on, the more impatient Tischler and the feds are getting . . .
And while there are several murders, a horrific automobile crash, shootings, arrests and beatings, The Infiltrator, as directed by Brad Furman (best known for 2011’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” and 2013’s “Runner Runner”) seems mild next to such recent drug-tinged films as “Sicario,” “Savages” and “Traffic,” as nothing new is really offered here other than reels of minutia and detailed looks at such operations which can be quite fascinating at times, but also confounding and downright dull at others. Like “The Untouchables,” questions are begged about how far good men will go to catch bad ones and the internal conflict Mazur faced when having to turn in people he actually grew fond of.
Cranston is competent as Mazur, but does not go too much beyond that, while Leguizamo, Kruger — as the “virgin” agent — and Bratt — as the quasi-drug lord with a conscience — shine in their roles. Kruger, especially is so natural, at first giddy with excitement and then has to pretend she and Mazur are deeply in love, despite the ruse. It’s a wonderful performance, as is Bratt’s whose face etches his hurt and betrayal at the film’s conclusion.
But on the other hand, Aubrey is completely annoying as the wife of a Customs agent who is so naive about his job it’s ridiculous. With its economical two-hour running time, The Infiltrator will seem to fly by, but will probably leave little impact like many movies of this ilk are likely to do.