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The Infiltrator is the Summer 80's Throwback for the Non-Ghostbusters Crowd

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2016 13 Jul
<i>The Infiltrator</i> is the Summer 80's Throwback for the Non-<i>Ghostbusters</i> Crowd

Plots about defeating the drug trade used to be a dime a dozen, and The Infiltrator hits all the familiar beats. But strong acting and several well-executed sequences make it an engaging, if uneven, drama with an edge and a satisfying conclusion. 3.5 out of 5.


It’s the mid-1980s, and the war on drugs isn’t going well. Pablo Escobar is flooding the U.S. market with product, and his dirty money needs laundering. Enter customs agent Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston), who goes deep undercover with fellow agent Emil Abreu (John Leguizamo) to infiltrate Florida's drug runners. He'll befriend Escobar's right-hand man, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), and others, with the help of agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), who poses as Mazur's fiancée.

The question of whether Ertz's relationship with Mazur is more than professional troubles Mazur's wife (Juliet Aubrey)—a familiar trope in these stories—but director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) keeps everything chugging along through plot contrivances and directorial flourishes that are reminiscent of other filmmakers. It’s absorbing enough to make for a compelling drama.

What Works?

The performances are top-notch, from Cranston in the lead role to memorable supporting turns for Leguizamo, Bratt and Amy Ryan, all the way down to Olympia Dukakis, who makes the most of her brief but memorable appearances. The film also has a pleasing sense of closure and lack of cynicism, neither of which has been fashionable in recent cinema.

What Doesn't?

From a warning that "It's the little things that get you whacked," to a beat-down of a waiter that's a little too reminiscent of Joe Pesci taking out his rage in Goodfellas, the dialogue and certain sequences in The Infiltrator can feel too familiar at times. A strange "sermon" involving a financial institution also feels out of step with the realism that characterizes most of the rest of the film.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

Abreu says he's not a Jehovah’s Witness. Churches are said to be the only thing keeping a town from dying. A character says God gave us free will. A man says a friend prayed for him. The Bible Belt is characterized negatively.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material 
  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; multiple f-words; crude anatomical references; several uses of foul language, some of which appears in subtitles.
  • Sexuality/Nudity: Scenes in a strip club; a woman offers to do anything Mazur wants her to do; a homosexual character and mentions of homosexual acts; a shot of someone who appears to be performing oral sex; kissing.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: Shots of dead bodies covered by sheets; gunfire, sometimes at point-blank range; blood splatters character faces; a chicken’s head is torn off; a litany of horrible consequences is mentioned as a possible form of retaliation.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: The drug trade is a big part of the story; alcoholic beverages are mentioned as part of a metaphor.

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who can appreciate stories with unsavory characters and elements, and who won't feel tainted by exposure to going where Mazur must go in order to obtain justice. The relative paucity of big summer movies aimed at a demographic other than teens and children works to this film's advantage.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who require wholesome situations and morally uncompromised characters. There's a sense of justice being accomplished in The Infiltrator, but the journey to that point is dark.

The Infiltrator, directed by Brad Furman, opened in theaters July 13, 2016; available for home viewing October 11, 2016. It runs 127 minutes and stars Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis and Juliet Aubrey. Watch the trailer for The Infiltrator here.

Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of [email protected] and Ending Sibling Rivalry.

Publication date: July 13, 2016