By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
The history of Pablo Escobar and his infamous reign over his Colombian drug cartel has provided a wealth of material for books, television, and film. During the 1980s, the United States government sought to put him and other drug lords out of business. Much like the prohibition of alcohol during the 1920s and early 1930s, government agencies pursued several strategies in attempts to stop the flow of drugs in the nation. Opening in theaters is a film that tells about one such strategy that the U.S. Customs Service attempted through the use of undercover agents, particularly the work of Customs Agent Robert Mazur. Directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer), The Infiltrator is a tense and fascinating character study of the people who do undercover law enforcement work, and the mixed emotions often involved in their psychologically trying job.
U.S. Customs undercover agent Mazur (Bryan Cranston) adopts the undercover identity of Bob Musella, a businessman willing to get his hands dirty with drug money. Working with partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), the two agents manage to get in good with mid-level players with connections to major players such as Pablo Escobar. The more involved Mazur gets with the people he is trying to bring down, the more difficult it becomes for him to keep up his ruse and maintain his true identity as a good-hearted family man.
Written by Ellen Sue Brown, based on the book by Robert Mazar, The Infiltrator has all of the usual tropes, elements, and beats that come with an undercover crime drama. Nevertheless, the movie tells a very fascinating and compelling true story that often had me tense and nervous in my seat. Director Brad Furman adopts a style similar to Martin Scorsese to present the story as a 1980s time capsule with the style, flair, and pop culture of the era. The film’s pace does stall a little in moments, but Furman and Brown still manage to put together a solid film with excellent performances by the cast.
I am pretty much at the point where I cannot see Bryan Cranston ever delivering a terrible performance as an actor, and I hope he never, ever proves me wrong. This film is another example of the actor’s exceptional talent and he delivers a perfectly restrained and charismatic performance that explodes when absolutely necessary. Cranston happens to have that perfect face that expresses pain and stress beautifully, and he uses that wonderfully here. John Leguizamo delivers a great and rather amusing turn as the unfiltered and somewhat off-kilter Emir Abreu, an agent who loves his job as an undercover agent way too much.
Diane Kruger stars as undercover agent Kathy Ertz, a younger, less-experienced agent who has an extraordinary gift for acting, which comes in super-handy during their mission. Kruger’s work is outstanding and shares both a lovely chemistry and palpable tension with Cranston. Another stand-out is Benjamin Bratt who superbly portrays drug lord Roberto Alcaino. Alcaino may be one of the most dangerous players in the business, but Bratt’s warmth and charm make him accessible and actually likable.
Even though the film offers nothing new in terms of story material and style, I still strongly recommend The Infiltrator. The movie tells a captivating true story, and has some truly impressive performances by the cast. It is not too often I recommend a three star-rated film for a full priced theater ticket, but I feel this movie is definitely worth the time and money.