How 'The Infiltrator' Score Avoided '80s Crime Clichés
"It's not a razzle dazzle chase coke film."
The story of Robert Mazur, the U.S. federal agent who busted Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering operation with BCCI (at its height, the seventh largest bank in the world) is almost unbelievable. Operating under the false name Bob Muscella, Mazur went from family man to kingpin while elbowing his way into the underworld’s most elite circles.
Inevitably, Mazur’s story has been turned into a Hollywood movie, directed by Brad Furman appropriately starring Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston. Score composer Chris Hajian tells Inverse he sought to create a grittier, harder sound than other spy movies, because James Bond doesn’t have Mazur’s crises of conscience.
“I kept thinking: He’s undercover, he’s living a lie. He’s put his family in jeopardy. For what cost?” Hajian tells Inverse of his approach to the film. “I wanted to show that longing for his family, missing them, then the connection to [a friend in the mob] Roberto Alcaino, and how he was conflicted turning him in. What would make this man go on this journey?”
With The Infiltrator now in theaters, Hajian opened up to Inverse about creating the soundtrack to Cranston’s newest spy vehicle and how, because of its realism, his music bucks the hallmarks of the neon ‘80s-era in favor of something grittier.
What was the primary inspiration for your composition to The Infiltrator?
I’m always looking to fill in stuff that might not be obvious on screen. There’s a lot of lonely moments. After “Bob” almost gets killed, there was a beautiful moment where he gets out and he’s like, “Where am I? Who am I? What happened?” That gets into the soul of what this character is thinking at the time.
What did you hope to do differently in your score for The Infiltrator to make it stand out from other similar movies?
To stay away from clichés. There’s barely any rhythmic activity. Most of the energy is created by synth pulses or other techniques, but for the most part they’re created through patterns and rhythmic phrases I created through synthesizers.
It was always my goal to create an eighties score with ambient drones and textures and use strings as the emotional core. Historically, musically, synth and strings always go well together. Disco, the sixties, The Beatles, those sounds work well because they’re complementary.
You used synths but strayed from the sounds of Miami Vice. How did you pull that off that despite the close association ‘80s drug lords are to that aesthetic?
It’s something I saw when I first talked to Brad. From the get-go we both said, “That’s not what this film is going to be.” I’m thrilled I didn’t do that because that’s the danger when you do things with synths.
It’s not a razzle-dazzle chase coke film. Yes, he’s with the cartel, but that’s secondary. It’s about this journey, the connection with him and the characters. I’m not using Latin influence in the score. There’s some in the source music which is fine, like the Colombian café, that makes sense.
How did Robert Mazur’s Jekyll and Hyde tale of dual identities come out in the music?
All the stuff between him and his wife, that scene at the anniversary dinner and the car ride after, all strings. When we’re seeing through the eyes of the wife or the family, I lean on the strings in the two or three motifs that are specific to those moments.
[When he’s] Bob Musella, there’s leeway because the thing is an act. It can be whatever I want. I wanted to give the sense this guy, at any time, could get caught. This mission was insane. If they slipped, they all would have been killed. I wanted to make sure that when we’re in the world of Bob Musella, the score represented impending danger. This is the fabric how I created the score.
The Infiltrator is a departure from your previous work in family movies like Jingle All the Way 2. How did this Bryan Cranston drug lord movie let you go nuts?
Like any composer, we’re as good as what we get. I’ve done dramas but on a smaller scale. The Take, Brad Furman’s first film, I did. I’ve done documentaries of a serious nature. The family films and comedies I’ve done [were] because of relationships, you go where your allegiances are. The Infiltrator gave me a canvas where I could delve into what I can do in a dramatic context.
What else influenced The Infiltrator in its music?
Midnight Express. Even though that was late seventies, Giorgio Moroder was one of the pioneers in synth. I looked at Blade Runner, any score where synth played a part of the emotional fabric.
We’re going to spoil the movie a little, but the final scene at the wedding, when Robert Mazur’s dual lives clash. Musically, what went into making that scene?
That’s one of the most important cues in the film. If you look at the way that’s structured, I got big string movement that’s been working through that film. We’re living through this guy undercover and we’re like, “Holy fuck, this guy’s going to pull this off. This is crazy.”
There’s not a lot of dialogue. Again, between him and Alcaino, look at when that character shows up. Bob says, “Part of me is glad you’re here and part of me is wishing you didn’t take that risk.” The audience knows Bob tried to protect him and tell him not to come, and he showed up. The melody peaks at the moment when Alcaino and his wife look at them, “You double-crossed us.” That to me is what I think the emotion went to.
What was your favorite scene to score?
The end where he and Diane Kruger’s character wrap up, packing. There’s a lot temptation between those two they don’t act on. When you go undercover together there’s a natural connection. They’re fond of each other. They’re reminiscing. That melody comes in and he’s taking the pearls off her neck and they’re having a bit. Then she says, “Go home, Bob.”
Then it cuts to Bob with his wife at the park. I bring an acoustic guitar for the first time in the score. You only hear it at the end. Just the way that ends, that sense of letting it evolve and letting the audience figure out he’s home. I love that.
The Infiltrator is playing now in theaters.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.