Can a movie be both bizarre and bland? Adapted from a memoir by U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur, who spent several years posing as a drug cartel money launderer in the 1980s, The Infiltrator is rote, cheap-looking, and listless, like a mockbuster knock-off of American Hustle that managed to get a great deal on actors and aviator sunglasses and just had to scrounge up the rest. But what to make of the random voodoo ritual murder (never mentioned again), the white-suited cartel goon who seems to have teleported in from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, or the scene where Mazur rams a waiter’s head through a chocolate cake? Director Brad Furman (Runner Runner, The Lincoln Lawyer) can’t mount a coherent scene even in a Scorsese-aping Steadicam long take, but with this ersatz sting flick, he’s made something so amateurish and baffling that it comes around to being memorable.
With Bryan Cranston playing Mazur (despite being at least 20 years too old for the role) on sets that are about two-thirds empty space, sometimes amounting to not much more than a table set up in front of some potted palm trees, the film becomes surreal, self-reflexive camp without even trying: a sham about a sham, topped off with a fake wedding where all of Mazur’s pals in international finance and cocaine trafficking come to make a big show of paying their respects. In reality, it was a fake bachelor party, but The Infiltrator can’t resist staging it this way. Mazur, an agent with an accounting background, got close to members of Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel by introducing himself as a crooked businessman from New Jersey named Bob Musella, accumulating hundreds of hours of wire recordings that eventually led to the closure of BCCI, which was then one of the largest private banks in the world.
It’s a no-brainer undercover drama plotline that The Infiltrator has a really hard time keeping track of, to the point that it’s never exactly clear what the Feds are after or how much time is passing or why anyone even does anything. It exists in its own derivative unreality of implied seediness and global crime, where cartel movers-and-shakers look out on to poorly green-screened cityscapes and get up to no good in the nicest, least nude strip clubs in Miami Vice-era Florida. (Let the record show that the script was written by the director’s mother.) Periodically, The Infiltrator remembers that it has some interesting supporting characters, namely Mazur’s thrill-seeking partner, Emir Abreau (John Leguizamo at his squirreliest), and a violent felon named Dominic (Joe Gilgun) who gets furloughed from prison to play the role of Musella’s chauffeur and bodyguard.
But for the most part, it’s a disconnected and suspense-free series of setups and wire-recorded conversations, peppered with murders and threats that the characters seem to forget about right after they happen, notable for the sheer number of conflicts it drops (CIA involvement; Mazur’s relationship with his fake fiancée, played by Diane Kruger; etc.) rather than what actually happens. The movie’s sloppy artifice begins to hold interest in a way that the plot simply can’t: the lone extras who putz around in the middle of the frame; the strange mix-up of 1970s suits and 2010s tattoos that is the movie’s attempt at a period look; the way Cranston veers wildly from overplaying and underplaying a character with no psychology to speak of. Despite itself, it almost becomes perversely winning. Almost.