Fascination endures with the cocaine trade of the 1980s, as evidenced by everything from Netflix’s Narcos to the two separate upcoming biopics around minor characters in this week’s The Infiltrator. (One for Pablo Escobar, to be played by John Leguizamo… who is also in this film. And one for Barry Seal, to be played by Tom Cruise… who is also in this film. Weird, right? No, that last part is a lie. Sorry.) But this movie, based on the memoir of the same name by Bob Mazur, differentiates itself by focusing less on the bang-bang cartel action in the streets and more on the backroom money laundering in the sheets. That’s not an angle we usually see with crime films… for good reason, as it turns out, since The Infiltrator is deathly boring.
It’s the 1980s, and bankers’ white collars the world over are starched with cocaine (as an ending chyron helpfully tells us, around $2 trillion in dirty money gets transacted each year). Mazur (Bryan Cranston), a U.S. Customs agent, gets the bright idea to follow the dollars instead of the drugs, and sets up an operation to take down cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar’s money laundering operation. With the help of undercover agent Emir Abreu (Leguizamo) and rookie Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), Mazur assumes the guise of a master launderer and woos his way into Escobar’s organization. But the deeper he goes, the more dangerous things get. Or rather, that’s how the story would progress if the movie had an iota of tension to it. Instead, the operation mostly proceeds smoothly, with mortal peril only hiccuping into view on occasion.