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Despite Ambitions to Be More, 'The Infiltrator' Is a Simple Crime Drama

"The Infiltrator" ?shook me up enough that I dreamed that night about an undercover man who turns into a positive monster. Which is ironic, because Bryan Cranston is not personally corrupted by his years as an undercover man pursuing a Colombian drug cartel. 

His contact man, John Leguizamo, tells him that if he wants to be accepted by the drug dealers he has to live like them, and because Cranston won't betray his marriage to Juliet Aubrey, the good guys have to provide him with a fake fiancee in Diane Kruger, and though they have to live together for some time, it is doubtful that Cranston ever succumbs even to that, which is all but unprecedented in a noir thriller.

But the life in the crime world ruins everything anyway, with Cranston having to betray everybody around him while just about everybody around him has to betray him. There isn't a lot more plot than that, with Cranston slowly rising through the ranks of the drug world until he can get to the ultimate powers at the top--and not everybody he encounters is a total villain, at least in dealings with him. The drug world, like the Mafia in the movies, has to rely on its peculiar variety of loyalty and trust, when nobody can really be trusted, and at times the world of the law is uncomfortably like it, sown with suspicion until even a scorecard wouldn't help tell the good guys from the bad.

It's supposedly a true story, and is certainly convincing, though its convolutions make it hard to follow and at times I wished I knew how things came about as they did: We seem to be missing transitional links, as we so frequently seem to be these days. And the shifts in color seem to serve no purpose. "The Infiltrator" is, at bottom, a simple crime drama, and its ambitions to be more than that don't serve it well.