The cosmos is having a moment with Brian Cranston, and in saying that in no way do I mean to suggest that it is undeserved. With eight projects currently filming or in post-production we cannot get enough of him after living with Walter White/Heisenberg. Cranston’s deeply etched yet approachable face, alluring but not traditionally handsome, has the ability to switch from safe paternal love, to penetrating menace, with nothing more than a quick shift around the eyes. Groovy period facial hair helps too. And so, in his latest film, THE INFILTRATOR, Cranston is charged with playing Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs agent who in 1986, with his partner Emir Abreu and over 250 federal agents and law enforcement agents around the world, worked undercover for over two years to access and launder $34 million connected to Pablo Escobar’s Medellín drug Cartel and arrest those closest to the top.

Don’t we all just love  a good ‘based on a true story’ dramatization??? Glimpsing the lives of those doing the things that – most likely – we will never get to do, or have the courage to do. Some films fail to work their magic (J. EDGAR, FINDING NEVERLAND, JOBS) and others triumph (ZERO DARK THIRTY, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN). So what magically differentiates the successes from the lackluster? Ambivalence and heart. We must see ourselves even for one brief moment in the characters, see that they are fallible, weak, human. THE INFILTRATOR provides us with all the things we want in a drug cartel versus law enforcement story: For one, drugs. Violence, threats, bricks of money, gallons of bling, far too much erratic behavior, and tension. In fact, director Brad Furman, so skillfully turns up the dial of anxiety that it is almost unbearable at times. And that is a good thing. There is a scene in a restaurant where Mazur/Musella so quickly ‘turns it on’ when caught off guard, so fully switches to his alter ego with wild, violent authenticity, that it is terrifying, and in that moment that you fully understand that maybe you have to be a little bit insane to do the job. But far beyond the tension and flash, the story of Mazur and his cartel alter ego Bob Musella, shows the emotional toll of living a double life, and one that could easily kill you at that. While Mazur/Musella maintains his well defined moral compass of right and wrong, what he fails to anticipate is the emotional cost of forming meaningful personal relationships with the very people you are going to destroy. People who are without question knowingly engaging in illegal activities, but are in many ways, perhaps too many ways, just like him. And like us. After all, bad guys are people too.The resulting emotional ambivalence after two years of the intricacy and deceit, is something Mazur appeared unprepared for, and it is that part of the story which makes THE INFILTRATOR one of the best ‘true story’ adaptations of late.

Cranston shows nuance in his portrayal of Mazur moving imperceptibly from predictable and didactic, to a man slowly crumbling under the enormity of his double life. Many actors have spoken of first finding their character’s voices as a way into them and Cranston’s voice is critical. It is hypnotic, powerful and chafes with years of experience and weariness. His partner Emir Abreu played by John Leguizamo, shows little of the ethical struggle which burdens Mazur. Abreu is dangerous, volatile and resolute in his goal and role. Leguizamo has become an admirably expressive actor who can completely command a leading role and hold you in his grip. His work in THE INFILTRATOR is the best I have ever seen from him. Diane Kruger is a nice addition as Musella’s undercover “fiancé,”but the role shines no specific glory on her particular strengths. The supporting cast is well comprised with a stand out in Benjamin Bratt as Escobar’s top U.S. money connection Roberto Alcaino. As I have said ad nauseum, it is not enough to have a great story – true or fictitious, you must know how to create a good film. Furman’s direction is tight and effective, and while it was not filmed on celluloid, cinematographer Joshua Reis has created a beautifully saturated palette and grainy texture that fits the era perfectly. THE INFILTRATOR is not an action film. It is a web of power, suspicion, betrayal and skill and it is without question one of 2016’s best films.

(4.5 / 5)

Director: Brad Furman
Cast: Brian Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt
Rating: R
Running Time: 127 minutes



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