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Thursday
Jul 14 2016

Review: The Infiltrator

Manuelhere with a review of The Infiltrator which opened yesterday nationwide.

Fact: Steven Soderbergh'sTrafficis one of the most influential films of the 21st century.That's not a qualitative assessment but an increasingly common thought that's rankled in my brain.Can you believe Soderbergh actually struggled to get his film financed because Hollywood execs didn't think audiences would want to watch an entire film about the drug trade?

Fast-forward to summer 2016 when USA is premieringQueen of the South,Netflix will bring us season 2 ofNarcos,two competing El Chapo TV series are in development,and Bryan Cranston'sThe Infiltratorjoins an ever-growing list of films about the war on drugs that range from the sublime (Sicario) to the pedestrian (Blow) with everything in between (Savages,anyone?).

In Brad Furman'sThe Infiltrator,theBreaking Badactor plays U.S.Customs Service special agent Robert Mazur who,as is par for the course in certain genres,decides to take on one last job to go undercover as "Bob Musella."...

Bob's job is to follow the money,as it were,and hope that in tracking the money laundering business,the Florida-based Customs team would be able to take on the heads of the drug cartel in Colombia.And so,aided by fellow agent Emir (John Leguizamo,in comedic foil mode here),Mazur successfully infiltrates Pablo Escobar's operation,eventually taking down several of his inner circle down as well as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International,through which most of the dirty money was being laundered.

With a synopsis like that,there's not much that sets the plot of the film apart from many other attempts at similarly-themed films and TV shows.Just before the film started,my husband listed a number of plot points/scenes he expected we'd see ("It'll probably start with him being undercover";"We'll get a scene where he's about to be found out";"Maybe another one where we see he cares about those he's working to bust";etc.) and to a tee,the film delivered on all of them.

With all the trappings of a "war on drugs"genre picture with a white American lead (based on real-life Mazur),I was worried the film would yet again paint with broad brushstrokes all those Othered Latinos who are evil to the core and must be destroyed if America is to rein in its cocaine problem.Color me surprised then,when Furman's film,with a script written by his own mother (!),goes out of its way to zero in on the way the people Mazur comes into contact have just as complex inner lives as he does and finds ways both subtle and blunt to undermine any feeling of rah-rah jingoism.Reagan's "Just Say No"ads,so familiar to Americans in the 80s,are effectively deployed here to show how disconnected they were from theactualwar on drugs being waged by Mazur and his colleagues,while the complicity of the United States' in keeping money flowing shades the way this has never been a fight between good,clean guys and bad,dirty ones.As Cranston's Mazur puts it when Emir tells him he's got a contact willing to sell him information for a mighty price tag:

"You know,those guys are always walking on the dirty side of the road.And if you bring them to our side,their feet are still muddy."

By the time the film's climax (at a make-believe wedding slash bust) arrives,we've seen pretty much everyone dirty their hands and feet trying to stay afloat.It's not a particularly novel insight but one that's nevertheless presented with enough assured skill that it doesn't come off as much of a platitude as you'd think.

But I really shouldn't bury the lede: if you are going to catchThe Infiltrator(and here,your Cranston fandom and/or your interest in drug war films not starring Emily Blunt will surely factor in),you should know that you get to see Diane Kruger rock some serious fashion while nailing the tricky role of a smart and rookie undercover agent playing Bob's arm candy fiancée,you get to witness Olympia Dukakis chew scenery as Mazur's Aunt Vicki,who's not as clean-cut as her nephew,and you get to watch Amy Ryan… well,sadly not all the women could get choice roles here,now could they?(Question for TFE readers: why have we failed Amy Ryan and what should we do to nab her better parts in better movies?)

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Reader Comments (6)

Nathaniel,today we lost agreat director,Hector Babenco died at the age of 70.Director of Ironweed (Academy Award nominations to Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson),Kiss of the Spider Woman (4 Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe nomination to Sonia Braga) and ,he died days before the release of My hindu friend,a movie about a filmmaker that´s dying of cancer but is awarded for Death(Selton Mello) more time to make one last movie.Willem Defoe stars in the english speaking movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lf9u3rs1RXc

July 14,2016 | Unregistered Commenterlawyer tony fernando

nathaniel,
please consider a yes/no/maybe so on the "aquarius"trailer:
http://www.indiewire.com/2016/07/aquarius-trailer-sonia-braga-brazil-kleber-mendonca-filho-cannes-film-festival-2016-1201705774/

come through for sonia!

July 14,2016 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

The hype for Breaking Bad (which I've never even seen out of pure disinterest) has severely tainted my taste for Bryan Cranston.I have to admit,I planned on completely ignoring the film until reading your review,Manuel.I won't rush out to see it in theaters,but I may check it out when it hits DVD in 3 months or so.

And you're right,Amy Ryan totally deserves better!

July 14,2016 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Diane Kruger is severely underrated.
Olympia Dukakis!!!I need her in more movies.
Amy Ryan deserves better parts too other than some wives.

July 14,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Yes!Traffic is so important.

July 15,2016 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

Consider me amazed then,when Furman's film,with a script composed by his own particular mother (!),makes a special effort to focus in transit the general population Mazur comes into contact have similarly as intricate internal lives as he does and discovers ways both unobtrusive and limit to undermine any sentiment rah-rah patriotism.

April 6,2017 | Unregistered CommenterHR Research Paper

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