Sometimes basing a film on a true story can be a major detriment to the way a film is structured and paced. I believe this is what keeps Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator from being a really good film. The problem is that, with a true story, you can’t develop tension by just questioning whether the protagonist will survive - we know he’ll survive. But will his children survive? Will his wife survive?
With Bryan Cranston in the lead role, as Bob Mazur, a federal undercover agent who becomes the heart of a huge money-laundering operation for the biggest cocaine dealers in the world (Pablo Escobar in Colombia), The Infiltrator should have been a compelling and hugely entertaining film. It wasn’t. Indeed, the first half of the film is so poorly structured and paced that I wondered whether it was worth my time to sit through the second half. I did stay, and I’m glad I did, because the second half of the film is better than the first. There are even some interesting observations about the nature of evil. And the film ended in a satisfying way, though parts of the climactic scene made me cringe because of the poor way they were handled.
Cranston does as well as he can with what he’s given and he’s what makes The Infiltrator worth watching, giving us a believable sense of what working undercover can do to a person’s soul. And the rest of the acting is solid enough, with Diane Kruger, as Mazur’s undercover colleague, standing out.
The cinematography and score are also more than adequate. But there are just too many inconsistencies and unexplained mysteries in the plot, like the fact that Escobar knows exactly where Mazur lives but somehow doesn’t clue in to Mazur’s true identity. These inconsistencies, together with some cringe-worthy shots, make The Infiltrator feel to me like a made-for-TV true story full of gratuitous graphic violence. Nevertheless, thanks to Cranston and Kruger, I’m going to let this film slide into ***. My mug is up, but low expectations are in order.