If is of strange fascination that we, as humans, are intrigued by stories of crime, violence, drugs, and the intricacies of the conflict between law and criminality. We love seeing the stories of major crime families squeezing their fair share out of life, as well as what leads to their downfall. The Godfather, Scarface, The Town, The Sopranos, all shape the inner culture of criminality and its desire to succeed. In some case, we cheer at their defiance of the norms of society and empathize with their direction on life, success, and survival. In many cases, they never asked to be in their positions, but they did what they had to in order to survive. Additionally, some have the golden heart, meaning that they don’t wish to be swallowed in a sea of wrong-doing, but they do what they can to help, perhaps as a means of atoning for their misdeeds.
This is the kind of fascination I had going into The Infiltrator, directed by Brad Furman and starring Heisenberg himself Bryan Cranston. The Infiltrator sets itself apart from other crime dramas as it’s based on a true operation that took place, during the blood-soaked cocaine wars of 1985. Unique to this crime drama, unlike others, is that focus on a lesser known Operation, Operation C-Chase, which was spearheaded by the US Customs and Border Patrol. This was a successful mission that involved the infiltration and collection of raw business data, related to the cartel. The Medellin Cartel, the notorious front operated by the notorious Don Pablo Escobar, has sent manage to find holes in America’s borders, dispatching a deluge of his product throughout the American streets. A flashpoint is Miami, Florida, where the cartel has managed to exploit the coastal city to quickly distribute their product, as well as make big profit.
The operation makes Frank Lucas’ NY operations of the 1970’s looks like an appetizer. Citizens are getting cooked in the streets, dying at the hands of this addictive, pure product. Communities are self-destructing at the hands of the cartel. Law Enforcement is stretched thin, with absolutely no way to stop it. Enter Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston), undercover agent with the US Customs Service. Like his colleagues, he is frustrated at the damage in the streets, and opts to initiate an operation. Instead of following the drugs to get to the bad guys, he opts to follow the money to get to the bad guys. This may not stop the Cartel, but it could significantly cripple them. Operation “C-Chase” is activated by US Customs Service, and with that, Bob sheds his real life for a false one. Donning the alias Bob Musella, Bob begins his decent into the underworlds of business, alongside Agent Amir Bremeu (John Leguizamo). Bob becomes The Infiltrator, and he will do what is asked of the mission, infiltrating as deep as the trail will go. What follows is a story of intrigue, danger, and close-calls that will the heart beating quite fast.
The Infiltrator nails that feeling of being deep undercover, especially against the backdrop of actual history. Unlike other stories, such as that Michael Mann Miami Vice of 2006, the focus in this undercover mission isn’t for love or a woman. The focus is on striking back at the cartel, as well as protecting the soil of America from such an epidemic. I appreciate the focus on telling a story, staying true to the historical source material, and not relying on blazing firefights. There is a natural view to where you feel the confirmed sensation that this mission, and all of its happenings, really occurred. I didn’t feel a sense of ambiguity or alteration, though I’m sure small changes had to be made.
Several scenes in particular really drove home the struggles of this line of work,especially as Bob balances the ever-constant danger of the operation with the lives of his wife and daughter at home. There was one scene at a dinner that particularly had my stomach in knots. Not in a bad way at all, but because of the nature of that particular scene. In that moment, which arrives during the halfway point of the film, Bob is immediately in a moment of acting out his alias, in a convincing manner, while maintaining his connection to his wife.
Bryan Cranston has had his fair share of drug conflicts from his role in the Emmy-award winning Breaking Bad. Here, he simply does a great job, becoming that hidden hero in the face of life-threatening obstacles and maintaining his old-life. His acting is true and fitting, as he portrays Bob. He never becomes “just Heisenberg in a movie.” Mr. Cranston really fulfills the part and the nature of this mission.
The supporting cast does an adequate job in telling their side of the story as well. The acting never felt out of place or untalented. There is a solid degree here in recreating the individuals who partook in the operation, as well as the targets. John Leguizamo as Mr. Cranston’s partner does his job in adding levity of the overall story, wise-cracking jokes in times of seriousness. He isn’t quite the comedic relief, as he initiated roles within the mission as well, getting down and dirty with the cartel’s slimiest.
Perhaps most notable of The Infiltrator is the direction. The movie goes through a solid amount of detail in creating 1985 Miami, complete with a soundtrack, which kicks off with Tom Sawyer by Rush. The licensed soundtrack lends itself to the different feelings of the film, from the high-life of big money and business, to the quiet moments when the reality of the mission becomes all too real. There is an original score by Chris Hajan, which was notable in not falling into traditional formats. It features a mix of orchestra and synthesizers, and has already garnered very positive acclaim.
As for the setup, the movie dots actual news clips had happenings from the time to further breath life into the world of 1985 Miami. Clips, photos, and even Ronald Regan’s speech on drugs dot the experience from time-to-time. It felt authentic. If there’s any drawback, the movie becomes, perhaps, a bit too long. In addition, I feel there should have been some variations to spice up the flow. There’s enough, but by the end, it grew a bit long. However, the ending act culminated very well as everything concluded.
The Infiltrator is a unique, dramatic and thrilling offering to the Summer cinema, which is bloated in sequels and unnecessary reboots. From its historical authenticity to its focus into a more collected story of undercover operations, this is one true story you don’t want to miss. I may also add, this also wets my appetite for Narcos Season 2 on Netflix, which arrives in September.