Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera, The Infiltrators, billed as a “docu-thriller”, deals with the pertinent issue of the treatment of immigrants in the U.S. justice system. And despite a very compelling and cinematic story, one can’t help but wonder if the film would have been better off with a fully narrative format rather than the hybrid with which the filmmakers went.
The movie follows a group of DREAMers who set out to infiltrate a for-profit detention center in the hopes of exposing their unethical practices and advocating for the rights of immigrants. This is definitely a very compelling story, as it plays out almost like a real-life heist, but unfortunately, this feels just a tad manipulative when considering the fact that this is affecting real people.
It’s a shame that the film comes off as inauthentic at times, because the cause which it is documenting is truly noble. These people are unsung heroes, and their story needs to be heard, but not in this way. More often than not, it feels like the movie is pandering to audiences and sanitizing the information, rather than responding to a legitimate crisis.
That isn’t to say that the film has no substance — some of the stories that the movie explores are truly interesting. The film features a few of the detainees that the subjects helped, and their experiences should have been the real focus of the movie. While this thriller structure is admittedly very entertaining, it doesn’t have the full emotional impact.
On the other hand, the film does a very good job of developing the main subjects of the movie, the eponymous activists, and that is because this is where a majority of the documentary footage comes in. The real people represent themselves in this portion of the film, and their perspective on the events is an undeniable relief from the nearly sensationalized dramatized sequences.
The reenactments are certainly shot very well, but the movie’s reliance on them is questionable. On one hand, it is completely understandable why the filmmakers had to fall back on this method, as cooperation from sources for an exposé like this is admittedly tricky. However, had more interviews (even anonymous ones) been featured, there would have been more authenticity.
Within the reenactments, the quality of the acting is about what one would expect for the method of filming. The movie’s highly-scripted portions are meant to create an artificial reality, but instead, they force mostly wooden performances out of the film’s cast. The sole exception is Maynor Alvarado, the lead of these reenactments, who surprisingly manages to breathe life into his role.
The Infiltrators has an unarguably exceptional true story at its core, but the filmmakers don’t tell it in the right way. Since the film has been optioned to be adapted into a fully-scripted series, maybe that iteration will have more of an impact.
The Infiltrators screens online in partnership with indie theaters beginning May 1. A list of participating locations can be found here.