Movie Review: “The Infiltrator”

Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Jason Isaacs
Brad Furman

Like director Brad Furman’s 2011 film, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” his latest movie, “The Infiltrator,” is an assured piece of filmmaking that spins a familiar tale extremely well. This true-life story is a consistently engaging look at a man and woman living duel lives. Will they get in so deep that they forget who they are? Furman and screenwriter Ellen Sue Brown (who also happens to be the director’s mother) answer that clichéd question with genuine nuance and thrills.

Set in 1985, Robert “Bob” Mazur (Bryan Cranston) – whose real-life counterpart worked as a consultant on Furman’s “Runner Runner” – is a U.S. Customs agent who’s given the chance to retire early and spend more time at home with his wife and kids following an injury at work. Instead, he pursues another job involving Pablo Escobar, who mostly remains in the shadows of this story. Posing as a successful money launderer named Bob Musella, he attempts to cripple Escobar’s organization by bringing down his top people, including Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), a criminal that Bob befriends. Joining Bob on his undercover mission are agents Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Ebreu (John Leguizamo), who must put aside their personal differences and work together in order to take down some of the world’s most powerful drug lords and corrupt bankers from the inside.

Bryan Cranston, who co-starred in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” is fantastic as Mazur. Rarely do undercover agents in movies feel this vulnerable. Mazur isn’t played as an agent that can take out five guards without a problem, but he’s extremely competent and smart at his job, even if his smarts aren’t always enough for the job. Even in seemingly mundane conversations in “The Infiltrator,” death is only a few flubbed words or a wrongly remembered lie away for the character. The stakes are always high, and Cranston makes the audience feel those stakes in the briefest of moments sometimes. When Robert witnesses two murders, the actor doesn’t play it cool; his response is either of shock or horror. In these extraordinary situations, Cranston reacts normally. The actor helps make the reality and the sense of danger palpable, and the same goes for Kruger and Leguizamo.

Deep undercover movies are typically male dominated, but “The Infiltrator” is a breath of fresh air in that regard. Yes, Mazur has a wife at home who’s worried about him and sick of not knowing the truth, but it’s not a subplot that’s quickly glazed over. Brown invests time into the subplot to make it real instead of a rehash of what we’ve seen before. Mazur’s wife Evelyn (Juliet Aurbey) doesn’t just sit on the sidelines. In fact, one of the scene’s most dramatic moments is an exchange between her and Kathy Ertz, an excellent character who’s just as conflicted Bob. While Bob’s close bond with Roberto Alcaino, which is one of the story’s central conflicts, is perhaps a little rushed, Cranston, Kruger and Bratt are all good enough actors to make the subplot work. Mazur becoming a part of Alcaino’s family so fast isn’t entirely convincing, but the look of betrayal we later see on Alcaino’s face sells it thanks to Bratt’s performance.

“The Infiltrator” is a great showcase for its ensemble, including “Preacher’s” Joseph Gilgun, an enigmatic voice of reason and exposition in the story. Furman is definitely an actor’s director, letting his performers often communicate through silence, and one close-up of a dead silent Leguizamo demonstrates this perfectly. After Leguizamo’s character sees something horrific go down, Furman holds the camera on his face just long enough, letting the audience see all sorts of emotions – regret, relief, pain – wash over his face. It’s one of the many superbly performed sequences in “The Infiltrator,” which is a fine movie from start to finish.