If you’re a fan of the Filmspotting podcast you’ve heard, just before they start the Massacre Theater segment of the show, Adam and Josh play a clip from Reservoir Dogs where Tim Roth’s Freddy is being given advice from a fellow officer about how he needs to be method as hell to successfully pull off his cover. Freddy – Mr. Orange – has a mission he needs to achieve in taking down Joe and his gang of thieves but while he never sacrifices his own code he does get to know – and even like – some of the others who are in on the heist with him. The scene of him getting his acting tips is one of the great moments and one that occurs to me often when watching a story of undercover work.
Enter The Infiltrator to the genre. Based on a true story, Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur, an undercover U.S Customs officer who is tasked with getting into Pablo Escobar’s budding organization back in the mid-1980s. To do so he poses as a well-healed money launderer aiming to do business with Escobar in what he presents as a mutually beneficial relationship. Along with Mazur are his team of Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), posing as his business partner and fiance, respectively. But of course this isn’t a risk-free environment and Mazur and his partners need to call on all their skills to maintain their cover and bring down Escobar.
The one and only poster knows the main selling point here is Cranston and so makes his face the main element of the design. A stern look is on his face and in the reflection of his sunglasses you can see money and guns, letting you know he’s in a world that can go very wrong very fast, with life-or-death stakes. Copy on the one-sheet explains this is a true story about the man who took down one of the world’s largest cartels, so the audience should know exactly what the story here is.
The first trailer starts off with Cranston’s character coming home from another assignment, which we soon see was an undercover assignment. He’s soon given another one, a big one: To take down Pablo Escobar. He’s given a new partner who he doesn’t feel super-comfortable with and an agency-approved wife, a woman on her first undercover gig. The rest of the trailer is about him meeting Escobar and working to infiltrate that organization, sometimes doing things he’s not alright with in the service of the bigger mission.
It’s good, but comes off like a lot of other trailers and shows in this genre. Cranston’s performance is the key draw here since the subject matter is something we’ve seen either directly or through variations on a theme many times before. It’s tight and certainly looks full of tension but the trailer likely makes the movie look a lot more action-packed than it actually is.
The next trailer starts by introducing us to Mazur as he explains how he’s an undercover cop and what he’s had to do to do his job. After getting their assignment to go after Escobar he and his partner figure out how they’re going to do so, trailing Escobar’s money. So they embark on the job, telling lie after lie and infiltrating his inner circle to get the information they need to take him and his organization down.
Again, this amps us the action and non-stop thrills of the movie, which may or may not be accurate. Either way, this is a decent trailer that shows off Cranston’s performance, which is the real selling point here.
Online and Social
The “Home” section of the movie’s official website shows a cropped version of the key art and features a rotating series of quotes from critics who have provided positive early reviews. Moving on from that, “Videos” has both trailers along with a couple TV spots. “Story” has a synopsis that again outlines what exactly Mazur was tasked with doing and what he accomplished. There are few stills in the “Gallery” and “Reviews” has more of the positive critical praise that’s already come out for the movie.
On social, the movie’s Facebook page has links to news stories, videos, photos of the cast and other promotional images and media. Same goes on Twitter, which also RTd media and others as the cast did the press and publicity rounds. There was also an Instagram profile.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one put the audience right in the middle of the action as Mazur and his partners are given their assignment and begin the task of infiltrating Escobar’s cartel, where they’re soon confronted with the dangers of that life.
They’re tight, but the condensed runtime doesn’t seem to allow for the story to breathe and come to cinematic life, so it comes off a bit like a glorified TV movie, not something that’s demanding to be seen on the big screen.
Social media ads on Twitter and Facebook also promoted the movie, using the trailers as their primary media asset.
Media and Publicity
Cranston, Leguizamo and Bratt seemed to do much of the press and publicity for the movie, with feature stories in a number of publications where they all talked about the movie and the story as well as a few appearances at baseball games and elsewhere to help get the word out.
You certainly can’t fault Cranston or any of the leads for the problems in the campaign, which are really on display fully in the TV commercials. I go back to what I said there about it coming off like a large-scale TV movie more than a decently budgeted big-screen thriller. There’s just nothing here that seems incredibly important to tell theatrically, so the campaign tries to make a big deal of the action and tension that’s in the movie, probably overselling those components in relation to how they’re actually in the movie.
But the movie itself looks pretty solid. There are risks and potential pitfalls when you’re telling a true story like this and it remains to be seen how many of those The Infiltrator falls into. But if you’re a fan of real life crime drama and want to see the always-reliable Cranston and Leguizamo working together to tell a story, then this will be right up your alley. Otherwise it will make a decent choice when it comes to Netflix or Amazon Prime in several months.