At the movies: “The Infiltrator”
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
* * *1/2 (A-)
Directed By Brad Furman
Starring Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt
Broad Green Pictures, Rated R, Thriller, Biography, 127 minutes
“The Infiltrator” gathers, banks, then gradually releases its tension by showing us that undercover U.S. Customs special agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) can handle the dangerous interactions called for in his line of work. Based on Mazur’s autobiography and adapted for the screen by director Brad Furman’s mother, Ellen Furman, the two-hour screenplay squeezes each word till the letters scream. It’s Oscar bait for Cranston, whose complex starring turn on television’s “Breaking Bad” made this 60-year-old a hot commodity. Like fellow sexagenarian Liam Neeson, Cranston allows us to see the careful thought and patience honed by his maturing years.
Not only does Mazur’s Bob Musella need the connections cultivated by his new undercover partner, Emir (John Leguizamo), he also must find a means around Emir’s thrill-seeking behavior and his new partner’s belief that gaining a criminal’s trust requires sharing drugs and prostitutes with them. During his first outing with low-level money managers, Mazur keeps his wits, claiming to have a fiance to whom he is faithful when actually he’s remaining loyal to real-life wife, Evelyn. Played by Juliet Aubrey, her finely shaded performance illuminates the difficulty of raising a family while married to an undercover agent.
Playing a flashy but nimble money launderer, Mazur overcomes a string of other difficult situations while working his way into Escobar’s organization. He survives the assassination of his associate, a high-level informant, is subjected to a life-or-death voodoo ritual, finds a means of freeing millions from Escobar’s frozen Panamanian account, and fends off the sexual advances of Escobar’s flamboyant, crazy money manager, Javier Ospina (Yul Vazquez).
Mazur also needs to create an international money-laundering network that allows the funds to be accessed from within the United States. It is perhaps the story’s most surprising aspect that bankers, both foreign and domestic, happily accommodate Bob even after he tells them he’s churning cocaine fortunes into buttery wealth. The Bank of Credit and Commerce International supplies a string of executives who greedily falsify documents and otherwise ensure that Bob gets whatever he needs.
Having invented a fictional fiance, Mazur is supplied with one by his hard-boiled supervisor, Bonni (Amy Ryan). She’s rookie agent Kathy (Diane Kruger), whose brains and good looks lend an air of credibility to their false engagement. Kathy proves instrumental in helping Bob befriend Escobar’s suave lieutenant, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). While posing as a couple in love, Bob and Kathy are convincing by allowing enough of themselves into their cover. Roberto, who takes pleasure from living as a civilized family man, is pleased (along with his lovely wife), to entertain Bob and Kathy in their home, and bring to the couple on recreational outings.
Actually in his 30s when this investigation began in 1985, Robert Mazur had the revolutionary idea that following the money, rather than the drugs, would be most effective in bringing down Escobar.
Set in Tampa and Miami, Furman’s direction suffers some bumpy moments, as if scenes and dialog had segueing bits that were cut in consideration of staying close to a two-hour running time. We see Bob pained by the rigors of leading a double life, though it isn’t readily apparent whether he suffers as much as his wife, or is simply placating her in an effort to achieve his ends with the least domestic alienation he can manage. Perhaps the DVD will include the missing pieces that clarify whether Bob’s qualms go deeper, but either way, this riveting film depicts an itchy business and gives it a good long scratch.