In the words of Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in!” That is basically the motto of actor Bryan Cranston who apparently was not content to let his implication with the dangerous, drug-related underworld rest with his career-defining work on AMC’s “Breaking Bad”.
No, siree. He’s been sucked back into that particular sub-genre of crime in the exhilarating new movie “The Infiltrator” (released July 13). Only this time, Cranston is trading in homemade blue crystal meth and a bald head for pure Colombian cartel cocaine and an ’80s stash that would make Magnum P.I. jealous.
Cranston plays Robert “Bob” Mazur, a special agent with U.S. Customs who is working undercover during the height of Reagan’s War on Drugs in the mid-1980s. The main plot of the film is Mazur’s idea to bring down the Colombians — particularly kingpin Pablo Escobar — by chasing the drug money rather than the drugs themselves. He adopts the alias of New York money launderer Bob Musella to get inside the dirty operation, which is deeper than he’s ever gone before.
Despite some confusing details about the sting operation itself, “The Infiltrator” is not only a fascinating look at the illegal drug trade and our government’s attempts to curb it, but it’s also a record-setting movie in the fact that it was written and directed by the mother-son team of Brad and Ellen Brown Furman.
Brad has directed some big names before including Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck in “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Runner Runner” respectively. His directing is tight and focused as it draws toward the inevitable end credits, which reveal the fates of all the characters. Meanwhile, his style for “The Infiltrator” is comparable to some Scorsese classics with its use of stellar tracking shots and period-specific music like The Who’s “Eminence Front” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman.”
However, this is his mother’s first screenplay, the adaptation of the real-life Mazur’s book for the big screen, but her tense and sometimes shockingly funny script indicates all the skill of a seasoned industry screenwriter. For instance, Brown Furman does an amazing job of depicting just how precarious your life can be when getting into this dangerous game. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lowly informant or a veteran federal agent — one mindless slip of the tongue can blow your cover, send your marks running for cover and end your life, all in one fell swoop. Mazur’s partner Amir Abreu (a charming and foolhardy John Leguizamo) learns this all too well with one of his sleazy informants.
More importantly, Ellen Brown Furman shows us just how deep an undercover officer of the law can go before you lose your very sense of self or moral compass. Mazur is good at what he does, but there’s one snag: he has a wife and two kids at home. A grounded Juliet Aubrey portrays Evelyn Mazur with all the trepidation, anxiety and anger that comes with having a husband who gambles with his life for a living. In one of my favorite scenes, she is horrified when Robert has to physically assault a waiter on their anniversary just to keep his cover.
Not only that, but one stray comment forces Bob to find a fake fiancee to introduce to Escobar’s people. Customs assigns Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) a rookie who is quite adept at pretending to be Mazur’s betrothed, helping to ingratiate him further into the criminal organization. The final set piece of their sham wedding underlines the ridiculous lengths that are sometimes taken to bring down the bad guys. It brings to mind the FBI’s Abscam operation from the late 1970s, which was done with more comedic effect in David O. Russell’s inferior “American Hustle.”
On the supporting side is Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino, one of Escobar’s top lieutenants. He highlights the theme of trust and forms a friendship with Musella and his fiancee. But what happens when you start to care for the people you’re trying to bring down? It’s all part of the movie’s building drama and appeal with Cranston at the center of it all, with a performance that ranges from calm to intense to melancholic. Coming off an Oscar nomination for “Trumbo,” the actor has proved his talent t for playing historical figures, perhaps making him the greatest actor alive today.
Look out other actors. Cranston IS the danger.