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“Breaking Bad” sure was a good break for Bryan Cranston. A guest star on practically every network TV show in the 80 and 90s, Cranston gained a larger audience when he landed the recurring role of an “adults only” dentist on “Seinfeld,” then hit it bigger as Hal in six seasons of “Malcolm in the Middle.” With his success as chemistry teacher-turned-drug lord Walter White on “Breaking Bad,” the movie roles starting coming in, culminating in his Oscar-nominated performance in “Trumbo.”
Cranston, though turning down the intensity and not going after any major character arc, is the main attraction in “The Infiltrator,” in which he plays Bob Mazur, the undercover Customs agent in Florida who, in the mid-1980s, was at the center of busting open a huge cocaine and money-laundering operation involving the real-life drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.
Mazur is presented as a workaholic cop who gets up close to dangerous people by regularly changing his identity, doing the dirty work, then destroying that identity before moving on to the next one. He also tries hard to maintain a normal family life, with his wife and two kids. But it’s clear that his is not the right job for that kind of thing. Part of the drama here is that his wife knows there are secrets, and understands that she can’t ask about them. But Bob has been at this dangerous work for a long time, and she finally says to him, “Promise me this is the last one.” His immediate, quiet answer: “I promise,” but you know he doesn’t mean it.
That’s because this current case excites him. He and the agent he’s currently partnering with (or in Bob’s terms, stuck with), Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), decide to try a new tactic in fighting Colombia-based corruption: Going after the bad guys who handle the money, rather than the bad guys who are selling the drugs. The plan is a good one, in which Emir gets down in the trenches with the dealers while Bob goes to work on the bankers, passing himself off as a big-time money launderer. The differences in the two men, and the problems that might come from them working together, are made obvious: Emir is a risk-taker, a smooth operator who’s full of himself and insists that his career is his “drug of choice.” Bob, too, tales plenty of risks, but he’s far more of a by-the-book guy.
An odd turn in the story — and remember it’s a true story — happens when the agent’s’ boss, the tough and demanding Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), assigns a rookie agent, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) to be Bob’s “administrative fiancee.” It’s an intriguing plotline that, if pulled off properly, will assemble a large group of targeted criminals, and make them ripe for arresting.
But there’s a long way to that point in the narrative. While Emir does his dirty work, Bob, armed with not much more than secret recording equipment, keeps making his way through connection after connection, inching closer to and finally meeting up with the suave and slick Escobar lieutenant and drug trafficker Roberto Alcaino (a superb performance by Benjamin Bratt).
It’s a film that will keep you on edge, partly because the characters are constantly in danger — there’s violence ready to strike everywhere, and often does — and partly because the nature of this work is that plans keep changing and everyone has to be able to think on their feet.
The plot gets a little muddled as more characters are introduced and more organizations and situations are brought in. But the script brings it all together in a comprehensive manner, and the explanatory end notes make the results and the work it took to get there awe inspiring.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Ellen Brown Furman; directed by Brad Furman
With Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Kathy Ertz, Amy Ryan
Movie review: Drug deals and money laundering make for an exciting sting in The Infiltrator’
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