The Infiltrator

(2016) ** 1/2 R
127 min. Broad Green Pictures. Director: Brad Furman. Cast: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt, Olympia Dukakis.

/content/films/4935/1.jpgOne law-enforcement officer lectures another in purple prose, and the recipient shoots back, “Is that Shakespeare?” No, but it is part of the problem with The Infiltrator, a sturdy but uninspired crime docudrama that’s neither convincingly colloquial nor thrillingly stylish.

Based on Robert Mazur’s autobiographical account of the same name, The Infiltrator kicks off in 1985 Tampa, Florida to tell the tale of Mazur’s undercover work for U.S. Customs. Specifically, “Operation C-Chase” targeted the gigantic drug-trafficking network of Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel by way of its money-laundering through the giant Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer, but also Runner Runner) and screenwriter Ellen Brown Furman gild the story with a few invented scenes to raise the audience’s blood pressure (including a test of loyalty involving Santería and firearms).

Aside from the evergreen drama of undercover work, Furman’s greatest asset—and possibly liability—here is Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) in the role of Mazur. On the one hand, Cranston tamps down his tendency toward hamminess to deliver a reasonably nuanced star turn; on the other hand, the sixty-year-old Cranston doesn’t have the appearance or demeanor to convince us that he’s an undercover Customs agent. It’s a testament to his skill that he can make us forget his miscasting from time to time, but it’s miscasting all the same.

Anyone who’s ever seen an undercover crime drama (think Donnie Brasco and The Departed) will recognize just about every in-too-deep beat of The Infiltrator: Mazur’s concern that partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) is a loose cannon, their hilariously hard-bitten boss (Amy Ryan, wasted), the near-misses, the strain on Mazur’s home life with wife (Juliet Aubrey) and kids, and the tug of sympathy on Mazur and his fake fiancé (Diane Kruger’s agent Kathy Ertz) for the mark, high-ranking lieutenant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). None of this is The Infiltrator’s fault, but the film falls down by settling for archetypal characterizations and relationships, and by being generic when it could be—like, say, Martin Scorsese’s Casino—fascinatingly wonky about the ins and outs of the criminal enterprise, the law enforcement effort to take it down, and the politics therein.

Instead, The Infiltrator is competent but just not that interesting, and the late-in-the-picture long Steadicam shot nodding to Scorsese and DePalma serves only as a cinematic distraction. For most of the picture, Furman seems consciously to be channeling cheapo ‘80s crime dramas (fun fact: Mazur served as consultant on the film of Miami Vice, where Michael Mann convinced him his story was worth telling on screen). The Furmans pace out enough gruesome moments, seedy nightclubs, and telltale trappings (in one memorable scene, erstwhile star Michael Paré) to make the film something of a cheeky throwback. In the end, though, The Infiltrator works out to be one more fact-based drama where audiences would be better served to curl up with the book.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 10/11/2016

Distributor: Broad Green

Broad Green's special edition Blu-ray release of The Infiltrator boasts impressive A/V specs and a nice collection of bonus features for fans of the film. The digital-to-digital transfer retains sharp and colorful picture quality that evinces a filmic impression, while the level of detail helps you to dig the textures of the vintage fashions. A sturdy black level helps to anchor the well-calibrated contrast, although the cinematography's sometimes lurid extremes of color can sometimes spike a bit of noise. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is up to the task of the dialogue-heavy but at-times active soundtrack. Dialogue is always clear and prioritized, and when gunshots hammer away or cars careen, the surround channels are put to effective use, properly panning with the action or assaulting us with accurate placement and LFE oomph.

Best in set among the bonus features goes to the commentary with director Brad Furman and star Bryan Cranston. You can hear the pair smiling as they amiably meander through a friendly discussion of the film's making that's also screen-specific when the visuals or characters or locations warrant a specific explanation. The two get into the historical details a bit, which is nice, as well as the work of the cast and crew.

The disc also offers five inessential but welcome "Deleted Scenes" (8:52, HD with "Play All" option). The featurette "The Three Bobs" (3:18, HD), though very short, crams in an interesting examination of the different personalities Bob Mazur had to maintain over the course of the work covered in the film, as explained by Cranston and a shadowed Mazur himself. Also short, and ridiculously split into three parts (albeit with a "Play All" option) is the featurette "How to Infiltrate" (5:51, HD with "Play All" option), covering "Part 1: Psychology," "Part 2: Identity," and "Part 3: Danger" with Cranston, Leguizamo, Kruger, Benjamin Bratt, and federal agents Kathy Ertz and Emir Abreu explaining undercover work as depicted in the film.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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