Bryan Cranston shines in undercover crime thriller "The Infiltrator"
The Infiltrator, a film full of duplicity, intrigue, and suspense, unravels the real-life narrative of an FBI undercover sting that brought down Pablo Escobar’s money laundering operations.
Escobar was the quintessential drug kingpin of the 1970’s and 1980’s. According to Wikipedia, it was estimated that 70 to 80 tons of cocaine were being shipped from Columbia to the U.S. on a monthly basis through the Medellin Cartel, Escobar’s drug network. This climate and tension between the U.S. and the cartels are certainly part of The Infiltrator.
Set against the backdrop of the mid-1980’s, the undercover crime drama characterizes a time during which then-US President Ronald Reagan waged a war on drugs and particularly on Escobar’s cocaine trade. A time when it wasn’t rare to see a “Say No To Drugs” commercial on TV, like protagonist Robert Mazur does one night while having dinner with his family.
Mazur, a US Customs Service agent played by Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), embeds himself undercover to help take down drug dealers in Tampa Bay, Florida. All the while, he maintains a family life with his wife and two daughters. However, the stakes are raised and his safety comes under fire when he gets involved in an operation to remove Escobar’s financial network.
With his partner on the case Emir Abreu, played by John Leguizamo (Chef), Mazur proceeds to infiltrate the drug kingpin’s network. He assumes the identity of slick-talking, money launderer Robert Musella, an identity that he chooses with Abreu while visiting a cemetery, dark humor that foreshadows what is yet to come.
Cranston is immersed in the role of Mazur. His acting goes through such a varied range of human emotion, from confidence as his cover, to fear and shock in several close brushes he has with death. Cranston seems to flip a switch when he goes from the quiet existence of his family life to the immediate and constant danger he faces as an undercover agent. The cool composure he demonstrates at a deadly audition to determine if he will become the man the cartel entrusts with its multi-million dollar operations is brilliant acting.
The supporting cast is also exceptional. Leguizamo provides moments of comic relief throughout the movie, but his character also goes through moments of intense danger, such as when his cover is nearly blown by an unstable informant. Cranston and Leguizamo have good chemistry, and their characters play off of each other well.
Actor Benjamin Bratt (Ride Along 2), who plays the cartel’s chief lawyer Roberto Alcaino, provides the high-level oversight for agent Mazur’s money-laundering operations while befriending Mazur. Bratt strongly portrays a confident, sophisticated international businessman, who lays out the consequences for Mazur if he discovers he is double-crossing him.
Diane Kruger (Unknown) is also great in her role of Kathy Ertz, a rookie special agent who plays the cover of Musella’s fiancée. Ertz develops rapidly as the operation ramps up, and Kruger clearly captures her maturation as an agent.
The Infiltrator is exceptionally well-written. The screenplay is done by Ellen Brown Furman, the mother of the film’s director, Brad Furman, and based on Mazur’s 2009 memoir of the same name. The movie has a well-structured story, with several twists and turns, and displays the great lengths which the government took to stop Escobar’s illicit operation.
As a whole, The Infiltrator realistically portrays the life of an undercover agent in the field and at home. The film presents the dangers of undercover work and how a single slip can lead to immediate consequences, and perhaps even death of an agent. A trip to a theater to see Cranston’s excellent performance and learn about the dangers federal agents face is well worth one’s time.
The Infiltrator (R) is now playing at D.C. area theatres.
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