Movie Review: 'The Infiltrator'

Movie Review: 'The Infiltrator'

Walter White crosses back from the dark side as Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame takes on the role of a drug enforcer rather than a drug peddler. Based on U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur’s memoir of how he infiltrated the Medellin cartel and helped bring it down, this takes place in the “Scarface” territory of South Florida, although it hardly compares to that Brian De Palma classic.

Cranston plays Mazur, a family man and hard-working G-man who gets the bright idea of following the cartel’s money-laundering rather than continuing to bust small time dealers that they hope will lead them up the chain. Set in 1986 at the height of the war on drugs during the Reagan administration, at one point there is actually a “Just Say No” television PSA running in the background as Mazur plays with his kids.

It’s established quickly that Mazur is a straight-up kind of guy, but that’s challenged many times over when he goes undercover and gets in deeper and deeper, hoping to get to Pablo Escobar. Leading him there is co-worker Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), who enjoys playing it loose and taking chances that drive Bob crazy – until it all starts to click. Also brought in by Bob’s superior (an underused Amy Ryan), is Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a fresh-out-of-the-academy agent who must play Bob’s fiancée after he blunders into a situation that requires a quick explanation. He comes up with an engagement scenario that now requires him to have a girlfriend to make it legitimate.

The cartel’s ruthlessness provides the undercurrent of tension for Bob, who takes the alias of Robert Musella, a brash businessman who convinces Escobar’s main lieutenant Robert Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) he can filter the cartel’s millions through his legitimate businesses. Brad Furman’s direction is nothing if not capable, but the weak link is the script by his mother Ellen Brown Furman that loosely stitches together scenarios from Mazur’s book.

In reality, it took him five years to breach Escobar’s network and establish himself as a trusted insider. It was tedious — and dangerous — and you only get a taste of that in this movie that could easily have been made for television. The most intriguing part is the relationship that Mazur/Musella developed with Alcaino. Bratt plays him as smooth and suave, but with a bit of menace always lurking beneath. With nuanced subtlety, he lets Bob know that one misstep, one hint that he cannot be trusted, will turn out very badly for him.

As in reality, the climax of this ends with a fake marriage for Bob and Kathy, which all his new drug smuggling friends are planning to attend. In fact, it’s a giant raid with federal agents swarming the venue and arresting everyone — in all, 85 cartel members, plus bankers from Bank of Credit and Commerce, which ended up bringing down the entire bank. When Mazur locks eyes with Alcaino, the one he’s become closest to, it’s almost with a hint of regret. But Alcaino’s return gaze is a murderous glare. No wonder Mazur keeps a low profile even today, 30 years later.

This is such a great cast; they deserved a script with more muscle to it. Cranston, with that deep voice and expressive face, is perfect, and so is Bratt. But if you really want the whole story, not this truncated version, read the book.