It’s hard to disregard the memory of Bryan Cranston and his extraordinary drug missions in Breaking Bad. What we also cannot help is recognising the opposites his role represents in The Infiltrator. This time, he is the “Hank” in the narrative, but the scale is much larger: Pablo Escobar’s trafficking network.
Bryan Cranston plays federal agent Robert Mazur who finds himself with the opportunity of taking down a large section of Pablo’s drug trafficking network. He goes undercover with the name Bob Musella along with his partners – Kathy Urtz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo). The crux of the undercover narrative is that he must convince his peers in the crime world that he is a money-laundering businessman to gain the trust and confidence of Escobar’s top lieutenant, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt).
The casting of Cranston for this role was a brilliant and unmistakable choice. He has demonstrated in past roles that he can take on a role of a man who is conflicted on a personal and professional level. In The Infiltrator, he satisfies an audience of a role that involves unfinished business but is personally torn between the mission at hand and his family. A scene, in particular, demonstrates the conflict in Robert’s character, where he is offered a prostitute, and he declares he is engaged to avoid further sexual contact. This demonstration shows that Robert does have limits when going undercover, but as his partner Emir points out, he must do anything to reassure this crime world that he is legitimate, or it will lead to serious ramifications.
Throughout the movie, you see the undercover team as their real selves and as their fake counterparts. In my opinion, in certain acts of the film, I felt that they merged because I sensed they were growing an emotional connection with the associates of the cartel. The movie manages to show the ruthlessness of going undercover; you cannot just pretend to be another person, you have to be that person, which means you have to form a genuine connection to gain trust. Oddly enough because you are witnessing this from the perspective of Robert and his undercover team you question whether you should feel sorry for the members of the cartel, because they provide insight into their family and personal life. You witness a caring and friendly side to the criminals and not just the brutality. It is weird that you have to remind yourself that these people were extremely violent and had a lack of care of the pain people suffered at the expense of their business. The conflicting scenarios the film presents is one of its strongest points, and that is helped by an outstanding performance from Bryan.
The film does have its problems, and I feel the main one was its pace. I am not sure if it was the narrative flow or the editing, but it seems quite off with the sequences of scenes and it never really gets going. It felt very laboured at times. It is like the production team had an idea of how the film should look, but did not know how to execute it to make it work 100%. The film had all the right ingredients to make a masterpiece, but it just lets itself down because they did not put the recipe together well.
Another issue with the film is that it lacked tension. There are many occasions where ‘Bob Musella’ finds himself in a dangerous situation; we are witnessing a narrative that showcases Pablo Escobar’s reign, and he was one of the most violent and vicious drug kingpins in history, and with Robert in the thick of it as Bob, I did not feel many nerves. None of the scenes forced you to find yourself gripped at the edge of your seat tensing up, which is strange because we are observing a dangerous world where one false move can land you in trouble and the characters remind you of this, yet it does not translate on the big screen. The missing objective is that it does not keep you tentatively poised all the way through and that is a shame because the ending scenes are great cinema. The Infiltrator had the makings to be a grand film.
The film should be tense and pulsating, at least in the third act, and although the length is not an issue, its pace and effect on the audience is lacking. What you have in the end is another good performance from Bryan Cranston with an excellent supporting cast. This instalment into the history of Pablo Escobar should not be ignored, however it does fall short.
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