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The Infiltrator - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Infiltrator
Directing: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

I sort of went into The Infiltrator cold -- I hadn't even seen a trailer beforehand. This seems odd given the frequency with which I go to the movies, and how good this one is. What's with the lack of aggressive promotion? Why do studios promote the hell out of the dumb shit and not quality movies like this one? It does star Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo, after all. They're under cover cops getting to know people at the highest levels of the world's largest drug cartel in an effort to bring them down in the 1980s. I know, sounds kind of blah and like tons of other movies, right? Well, it isn't. And it's based on the true story about Robert Mazur (who Cranston plays), specifically on his autobiography. Granted, it's still a movie so we can't assume it all happened the way it's depicted on screen, but it still lends a bit of credibility to the story.

And director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer tells this story rather well. It's always nice when you know so little about a movie and it turns out to be this absorbing, from beginning to end. I would recommend seeing as many movies as you can this way. It's difficult to do these days, avoiding too much aggressive marketing, ads and trailers and such. The absence of an aggressive campaign in this movie's case very much works to its advantage. The downside is that apparently nobody knows about it. In the 19 days since The Infiltrator's initial, limited release, it's made all of $14 million. Well, hopefully whoever reads this review will see it! That should add, I don't know, two or three more ticket sales.

And the less you know about it going in, the better. But I will say that this is not your typical drugs-and-crime movie. This is about how someone who goes undercover makes certain family sacrifices while at the same time becoming emotionally involved -- friends, even -- with the people they intend to take down. This is difficult business, with a heaping helping of moral ambiguity. As the audience, even we have to decide how much sympathy we feel for the criminals being betrayed. They're people with feelings, sure, but they're also fucking up a whole lot of people's lives with their business. This is presented in a cinematic context but it isn't just movie stuff: this stuff happened, for real. It happens.

It does all culminate in a pretty ingeniously orchestrated and satisfying climax involving a wedding used as a front, and it was so perfect that I did wonder, in this case, if it actually went down this way. (I looked it up: the climactic event actually happened at a bachelor party for the fake wedding -- but the basic concept was still the same.) Don't read up on history if you don't want spoilers. But either way, it's a great end to the story.

And the performances here are, across the board, great. Once again it's too bad we have to see great women actors stuck in supporting (if meaty) roles: Amy Ryan shines as U.S. Customs officer Bonni Tischler, but we don't get to see enough of her. We do get to see a good amount of Juliet Aubrey as Robert Mazur's real wife and of Diane Kruger as his fake fiancé, but not nearly enough of Olympia Dukakis as Mazur's aunt Vicky (she's in two scenes, but she's great in both). To be fair, this story is pretty male-centric; it's just a reminder of the need for more stories that are actually about the women. It's certainly no slight on Bryan Cranston to make this observation, as he carries this film with what looks like effortless ease.

In any event, The Infiltrator is the kind of movie that transcends the crime genre, and it comes recommended for anyone with an appreciation for well-constructed cinema. This is tightly polished storytelling, which is its own reward no matter what kind of story it is.

Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo under cover in THE INFILTRATOR.

Overall: B+
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