Bryan Cranston Goes Undercover in this Gripping True Crime Drama
DIRECTED BY BRAD FURMAN/2016
Bryan Cranston has gotten really good at playing a guy hugging both sides of the moral fence. His turn as Walter White in the hit television series Breaking Bad has cemented him into pop-culture legend. Since that show ended, Cranston has not rested on his laurels in choosing very interesting subjects to portray in film. Aside from his work in the recent Godzilla reboot (where he was one of the better things in the film), Cranston has chosen two very interesting characters in Dalton Trumbo and now with famed undercover agent Robert Mazur in his latest film, The Infiltrator.
The feel of director Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator feels much like the dark world of Michael Mann’s 2006 film Miami Vice, and for good reason. Robert Mazur served as a technical adviser for the 2006 film and was encouraged to write his book that chronicles his involvement in the most famous undercover operation in U.S. history, Operation C-Chase, by Michael Mann. Mazur began writing the book around the time that he was advising Brad Furman for the film Runner Runner, and now the two have combined to tell this story, with Mazur’s book and Ellen Sue Brown’s (as Ellen Brown Furman) screenplay serving as the foundation for this exciting thriller.
While Mazur admits that many of the details in this film are over-emphasized for an effective film experience, this case not only involved going after the famed cocaine cartel of Pablo Escobar, but also the world-wide banking industry that was culpable in being the agent for the trillions of dollars that are laundered every year, which serves the drug cartels.
The Infiltrator is superior to almost every other summer film that has come out so far, and would also feel more at home in the fall when we begin to consider films for a potential Oscar-race.
The film takes place in the 1980’s and captures the feel and texture of the times from the opening notes of Rush’s Tom Sawyer, to the closing song of The Who’s Eminence Front. Cranston’s version of Federal Agent Robert Mazur is assigned this case along with new partner, the wildcard Emir Abreu, played wonderfully by John Leguizamo. Mazur is a man who has to have everything meticulously planned out and looks with disdain on someone like Abreu who seems to fly by the seat of his pants. They make an effective team as they seek to gain the trust of the cartels and follow the money, rather than the typical way it has always been done of following the drugs.
Small roles that offer outstanding support to the film is provided by Amy Ryan as Mazur’s boss, Bonni Tischler; Juliet Aubrey as Robert Mazur’s wife Evelyn; Elena Anaya as Gloria Alcaino; and Olympia Dukakis as Aunt Vicky. But the other principal’s in the cast are what gives Cranston the ability to play off of to create the tense, and surprisingly humorous portrayal of a man caught up in a dark world. The first being Diane Kruger (National Treasure, Inglorious Basterds) who plays Kathy Ertz, an undercover agent posing as Robert’s fiancée. The other is Benjamin Bratt (Ride Along 2, Miss Congeniality) who has played the typical formulaic Latin drug kingpins in the past, to varying degrees, especially earlier this year in the Ice Cube/Kevin Hart comedy Ride Along 2. Here, as Roberto Alcaino, he truly owns the part and creates a believable and layered depth and sympathy that clouds the clear line of right and wrong for our undercover agents who are trying to bring down the bad guys without being seduced by their world of compromise, or worse yet, getting themselves or their loved ones killed.
While the subject matter is often dark and tense, there is much light amongst the shade. Leguizamo delivers well placed barbs that lighten the mood, as effectively as he did in Chef, but fitting to the life-and-death situations they find themselves in. One question you might have while watching this is how these officers could handle the danger, the threat on their family, and the lies they are telling without breaking, and this type of humor is one of the reasons. Even the friendship of Mazur and Alcaino creates pockets of authenticity in an arrangement built on deception and lies. We see that the key to surviving it all lies in what Mazur tells his team about lying….that it must mostly be grounded in truths in order to be believable and to not break when the hammer comes down. This includes Mazur even using the initials of his real name by lifting his persona from gravestones of the deceased that share his initials, ethnicity, and age.
The Infiltrator builds the tension to a too perfectly crafted ending, but it works mostly because it successfully emulates the big showdown style of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (Both the series and the film) where the tension is felt as the noose is tightened around the metaphorical neck of the situation playing out, until the rope is pulled taunt and it all goes down. And for the most part, Brad Furman’s direction keeps it all tight and moving, never allowing the tension to die down for too long before ramping up again.
The Infiltrator is superior to almost every other summer film that has come out so far, and would also feel more at home in the fall when we begin to consider films for a potential Oscar-race. With too many films to be released this year, I can’t start declaring this a film in contention, but I can’t say it won’t be either.