2016, R, 128 mins.
Bryan Cranston as Robert Mazur / Diane Kruger as Kathy Ertz / Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino / John Leguizamo as Emir Abreu / Elena Anaya as Gloria Alcaino / Daniel Mays as Frankie / Amy Ryan as Bonni Tischler / Joseph Gilgun as Dominic / Gino Picciano as Banker
Directed by Brad Furman / Written by Ellen Brown Furman, based on the book by Robert Mazur
The irony that
permeates THE INFILTRATOR is so thick you can cut it with a proverbial
Its star, Bryan Cranston,
made a name for himself as an actor on the small screen in his multi-award
nominated and winning performance on BREAKING BAD.
He played a good man driven to become a criminal and ultimately an
empowered drug kingpin that had to keep his clandestine life a secret from
those he held dear. In the
fact-based THE INFILTRATOR Cranston once again gets embroiled in the world
of dangerous and high stakes narcotics trafficking, but this time he's on
the side of the law as a federal agent that goes undercover as a money
laundering businessman to take down the cartel of Pablo Escobar.
Much like Walter White from BREAKING BAD, Cranston's agent has to
deal with larger issues of loyalty and morality that could easily take his
life at any moment's notice.
is based on the true story of U.S. Customs Service special agent Robert
Mazur (Crantson), who decided to eradicate one of the largest and most
nefarious drug peddlers in the world in Escobar in the 1980's, not to
mention the financial organizations that were laundering his dirty money
and allowing him to stay afloat. We've
seen countless films before about the duplicitous nature of undercover
work, and THE INFILTRATOR, at times, has difficulty overriding our
sense of overt familiarity with its genre; it has a decided been-there,
done-that feel. However,
director Brad Furman (who made the very underrated THE
LAWYER) does a terrific job of not glorifying the hellishly
intense work of Mazur and his colleagues; he shows their jobs for what
they are - incredibly stressful and driven by split second decision making that
could mean the difference between living and dying.
That, and THE INFILTRATOR triumphantly shows why the dependably
rock solid 60-year-old Cranston continues to be the most underutilized
asset in Hollywood.
The film opens
with a wonderfully realized scene that introduces us to Mazur in 1986 as
he's working undercover in a drug bust at a bowling alley that nearly gets
derailed in an awfully bad way (the hidden mic he's wearing starts burning
a hole in his chest, so the quick witted agent - always staying in
character - fakes a heart attack). Emerging from the mission mostly unscathed and earning a big
score and victory, Mazur wants to wind down and spend time with his wife
(Juliet Aubrey), but he gets pulled back into the undercover game to nail
one of the biggest players in Escobar.
He and his colleagues form a fairly ingenuous strategy: they will go
after the money of the drug czar first and foremost, whereas previous
missions focused exclusively on stopping the drugs.
More specifically, he wants discover the secretive ways that
Escobar and his accounting minions have been able to launder preposterous
amounts of money undetected. Mazur
has an ambitious plan of infiltrating
money men at the highest levels of power and build a secure case
Going under the
identity "Bob Musella" (a businessman that's skilled at
laundering hundreds of millions of dollars of crooked money without
leaving a trace), Mazur makes some initial contacts with Escobar's low
level money men, and eventually works his way up to Escobar's financial
second in command in Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt).
As he gets closer and closer with Alcaino - eventually becoming his
close BFF - Mazur slowly begins to realize the extreme danger he's in,
fully understanding that even the most minute of verbal slip-ups could
spell doom for him. He makes
one silly blunder with a criminal contact by telling him that he's engaged to help resist the
services of a paid lap dancer that he's been offered.
This mistake makes it up to the chain of his command (Amy Ryan),
who decides that Mazur now needs a fake fiancÚ to help further sell his
ruse. He's assigned a rookie
agent in Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) that's never gone undercover before to
play his faux bride-to-be. Predictably,
Mazur's mission gets increasingly more complicated and fraught with peril.
Again, one of the
things I admired about THE INFILTRATOR was the way it pays compelling respect
for the work of Mazur and his crew, which ultimately makes it a very
worthwhile examination of the paranoia-fuelled lives of undercover agents.
Many films in the past have a thorny tendency to sensationalize
such work, but Furman is able to ring out as much genuine tension and
intrigue from Mazur's work as he can, and often in unsuspecting and sly
ways. At times, the near
suffocating level of unease that Mazur feels is made almost unbearable to
endure at times, especially when he's forced to make lightning quick
decisions on the moment to ensure his cover isn't blown.
There's a shocking sequence in the film when he's caught with
his real wife by one of Escobar's men and is forced to display his phony alias to him by violently accosting the waiter that's trying to politely
serve them. His wife is
predictably dismayed and embarrassed, but he later attempts to reassure
her that it's just part of the job, a task more difficult than perhaps his
Cranston is in
truly refined form here as Mazur in a performance that has to walk a
delicate highwire act of pretending to be a loathsome criminal and a
devoted and caring family man. As
is the case with many films like this before, Cranston is afforded
the opportunity here to play two distinct characters, and he seems wholly
equal to the dual task by fully cementing himself within both personas
with great subtlety and authenticity.
There are very few moments in the film when you doubt the conviction
- and inner turmoil - of Mazur as he attempts to do the impossible.
He's supported by several other good turns by his co-stars, like
Kruger, who's quite assured as the woman that has to masquerade as his
future wife. Benjamin Bratt is quietly chillingly as his soft spoken and
calmly intimidating Alcaino. John
Leguizamo shows up in the obligatory John Leguizamo-ian role of a short
tempered and motor mouthed co-worker of Mazur's that also puts his life in the
balance. Leguizamo can play
roles like this in his sleep, but he nevertheless brings twitchy and
frenetic charisma to his work here.
is a paradoxical film on a visual level.
On one hand, it's beautifully shot and Furman gives his film a
grainy atmospheric texture that's starkly foreboding, but at the same time
I never once felt like I was fully immersed within its period settings.
Films set in the 70's and 80's are tricky, mostly because they
either come off as too garishly ostentatious to the point of distraction
or they simply do a poor job of encapsulating the era specific settings
overall. THE INFILTRATOR falls a bit more towards the latter, and
aside from the costuming, cars, and
tech here, the film looks and feels a bit too modern for its own good.
I simply didn't have the sensation of being swept away in its
evocation of a bygone decade. Strip away the props and THE INFILTRATOR looks like its set today.
Beyond that, THE INFILTRATOR also relies too heavily of stale and tired genre troupes, such as the grieving wife to the undercover agent whose only sole purpose in the film is to be the beleaguered spouse that vehemently has to chastise her husband's vocational choice and plead with him to retire. There are also numerous other times in the film when it becomes hard not to think about other versions of this same story (albeit with different players and settings) that have been done better before. THE INFILTRATOR frequently strains for relevance in its attempts to segregate itself widely apart from an overcrowded pact. However, when your film is populated by the likes of Cranston it becomes a bit easier to put aside many of its nagging faults. There are very few films of this nature that are, for the most part, held together and propped up by the sheer presence and deeply committed and exemplary performance of its lead actor.
is one of them.