'The Infiltrators' film review: Riveting docudrama takes on immigration detainment, deportation
Part gripping documentary and part prison thriller, the immigration rights drama "The Infiltrators" (screening during the 2019 Tacoma Film Festival) puts a laser focus on one of the most urgent hot button issues of today: the detaining and deportation of undocumented people.
In short: Based on the true story of a group of anti-deportation activists attempting to break a detained undocumented man out of a detention center - by intentionally getting detained themselves.
Anyone at all familiar with the undocumented immigrant process knows people without immigration papers actively avoid crossing paths with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. So the radical audacity of undocumented youth turning themselves into ICE is already pretty daring - the fact that they're effectively breaking into a prison to break people out is what makes "Infiltrators" compelling from start to finish. And with its brisk 95 minute runtime, "Infiltrators" has little to no fat on it, efficiently balancing a movie that is as eye opening as it is entertaining.
The stakes are dire for everyone involved, inside and outside the detention center walls. Everyone detained has the ever-present threat of deportation hanging over their head, like an anvil that could be dropped at any given moment. And it's not just enough that these young people turn themselves into ICE - they basically have to lie get swept into the detainment process. If immigration officers discover what these kids are up to, it could endanger their entire effort, not to mention their own safety. Even the group members outside the facility walls
The film's hybrid format marries the authenticity of the documentary structure - featuring footage with the real-life subjects - with the familiarity of a narrative, with actors portraying real people behind detainment center walls. At certain junctures, the film actually shows the real-life person, as well as the actor portraying them. This allows the film to seamlessly shift between the in-the-trenches documentary vibe while also telling the story of the incarcerated activists.
Although "Infiltrators" is unflinching in its depiction of detention center life, the film threatens to be a hard-hitting story - but never completely takes the gloves off. The movie threatens deportation and even the worst aspects of life as a detainee, however, these elements are teased but never fully explored. Really showing the horrors of solitary confinement or a fully-executed deportation would seriously drive home the severity of the stakes involved. As it is, the stakes are alluded to but never fleshed out.
Final verdict: Timely, captivating and terrifying due to its real-world roots, "Infiltrators" has all the strengths of an entertaining prison break flick, with harrowing and humane traits of an uncompromising and gritty documentary.
"The Infiltrators" is the Opening Night featured film of 2019 Tacoma Film Festival. This true story drama is unrated and has a running time of 95 minutes.