Review: ‘The Infiltrators’ is an inventive hybrid of immigration drama and heist thriller


With “The Infiltrators” there is an audacity, an unrestrained boldness, to both the events depicted onscreen and the way in which they are portrayed in the movie itself. A documentary-fiction hybrid directed by Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, the film won both prizes in its section when it premiered at Sundance in 2019 and was the opening-night film of last year’s Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

A group of young undocumented immigration activists realize one of their best lines of protest and change is from within a Florida detention center. So instead of being afraid, they get sent there on purpose and proceed to fight from the inside to get others out. (And that’s all true!)

For the record:

12:21 p.m. May 1, 2020An earlier version of this review misstated the last name of codirector Cristina Ibarra.

12:21 p.m. May 1, 2020

Much of what is shown outside the walls of the detention facility is genuine documentary footage of young people working relentlessly to organize, while what is seen inside was re-created on a set with actors. Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez appear as themselves in the documentary footage, depicted by actors Maynor Alvarado and Chelsea Rendon in the dramatic sequences. This fissure gives the film a fascinating, charged energy, as Ibarra and Rivera are able to lean into the differences between the two sides of their story while also bringing an unexpected sense of unity. (They’re aided in no small part by the sleek, propulsive electronic score by tomandandy.)


In one of the film’s best sequences, Martinez and Alvarado are kicked out after being discovered but refuse to leave the facility until some other detainees are released with them. Fictional scenes set inside the detention center and documentary footage at its gates depict the same series of events. There is something at once funny in watching officials plead with a young female activist to leave and brave in her refusal to do so until others can join her. To see someone transform the perceived liability of being an undocumented detainee into a source of power and strength, truly and deeply owning their identity, is inspiring and moving.

With its inside-out prison-break story, “The Infiltrators” has the energy of a crime thriller crossed with the urgency of a social-issue documentary. The bulk of the events in the film are from 2012, and when the story leaps ahead to 2016 with the election of the current administration, things take an ominous turn. In our current moment, “The Infiltrators” shows people making the best of a bad situation and finding ways to move forward both as individuals and toward greater common goals.

'The Infiltrators'

Not rated

Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes

Playing: Available May 1 via Laemmle Virtual Cinema