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Categories: Movie Reviews

An impressive cast go full Narcos to fight Escobar’s drugs and money laundering but the story is never as rich or addictive as its subject matter.

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Undercover cop stories have a lasting appeal with audiences. We love being given a window into the criminal underworld whilst knowing we’re actually rooting for the “good guy”. We love the fantasy of getting mucky in the criminal underworld and still being able to come out clean on the other end. The Infiltrator plays perfectly into this trope, giving the film a strong foundation whilst also being its greatest flaw. It makes it ultimately predictable, which is an unfortunate thing to be when your story is supposed to be driven by unpredictable characters and events.

Director Brad Furman is working with an old recipe, definitely, but he has enough talent to give it some interesting seasoning. Cinematographer Joshua Reis makes his big-league debut with The Infiltrator and he shows a huge amount of promise. He’s definitely a name worth remembering. The film is bursting with colour, particularly those grimy yellows and greens that are so evocative of Soderbergh’s work on such films as Traffic. This, coupled with some small but smart production design choices, recreates the film’s era well without ever really reaching the same level of detail as the great crime classics.

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Unlike a lot of undercover cop films there always appears to be some semblance of reality to every location. But as the film progresses, and our characters rise in the underworld, the decor and visual style become increasingly modern, steeped in cleanly lit chrome and glass. The originality begins to fizzle out. There’s a lot of chatter about The War On Drugs and the currently relevant sanctimony of right wing capitalism, but it amounts to nada. It’s symptomatic of biopics and true stories in general, life rarely offers satisfying conclusions so unless you go completely off-book the story generally loses steam towards the end. It’s lucky therefore that the film keeps its sights focussed on its real star, Bryan Cranston.

It may be hard to remember now but Cranston’s great crime saga Breaking Bad, in the shadow of which he may remain forever, didn’t elevate him – he elevated it. His star power is derived from his incredible range as an actor, something that Furman utilises fully. There is an inescapable element of performance right at the heart of this story. It’s not just about deceit and duplicity, it’s about people fulfilling roles in society. Cranston can be kind, he can be cruel, he can be a husband and a father, he can be a lawman and an outlaw.

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Overall the cast is pretty stellar. John Leguizamo, as usual, is the life of the party and Amy Ryan gives a short but noteworthy turn as the ball-busting FBI chief. But, as with so many sprawling true tales, there’s a plethora of great actors just hanging out as window dressing. Wasted talent includes, but is not limited to: Jason Isaacs, Daniel Mays, Michael Paré and Saïd Taghmaoui. Cranston is rightly the film’s driving force, and so much great work is done by actors like Diane Kruger and Olympia Dukakis who have to condense their characters into mere minutes of screen time, but there’s only so much one great actor can do with such a tepid story.

The Infiltrator is out now in UK cinemas.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a freelance copywriter and lifelong cinephile. For writing enquiries, you can email him at mark@cinemajam.com and you can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Oct 3, 2016

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