If there’s one thing Americans love it’s a movie about drugs. Make it a biopic and celebrate the lifestyles of the criminals behind the drugs and you might just have a cinematic cash cow on your hands. The Infiltrator, the latest film from director Brad Furman, definitely falls into that scope. While that seemingly puts the film into the “dime a dozen” range, The Infiltrator is able to, through some spot-on writing and wonderful performances by the entire cast, transcend the genre just enough to be something memorable and possibly quite special.
The film is set in Tampa in the mid 80s amidst the height of Pablo Escobar’s reign of cocaine fueled power and terror. Customs agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) has already had a storied career of putting away the bad guys via his stellar undercover work. He’s soon reluctantly paired with somewhat of a loose canon type in the form of Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo). It dawns upon Mazur that they need to think big picture instead of making low level busts. They need to start following the money. Mazur adopts the identity of Bob Musella, money launderer extraordinaire, and systematically makes his way up the Escobar food chain hoping to bring every single head down for the count.
There are few actors around that can pull off a multi-layered performance with such effortless ease as Bryan Cranston. While Breaking Bad will forever be heralded as his high water mark, and with good reason, Cranston has consistently brought to life so many characters that not only live but thrive within morality’s gray area. His turn here as Mazur brings that same depth and ease and intensity that he’s patented over the years but in this instance he’s actually a good guy playing at being bad. There are so many moments where the storyline was planting seeds of Mazur going too deep into his role but he’s always able to maintain his heart and his convictions. It’s his good nature that actually helps the film transcend typical crime fare. As he gets closer and closer to various members of the cartel, he doesn’t become one of them but does begin to care about them, even love them as family. Cranston is able to dwell in these moments of true regret while still maintaining the job and task at hand as top priority.
Cranston’s performance and the film as a whole is elevated to new heights by the absolutely perfect casting throughout. One thing that stuck with me early and continued to surprise and delight is the diversity present in the casting. People from all walks of life and nationalities and you can feel the richness brought about through that. It’s something that should absolutely be acknowledged and praised. John Leguizamo puts in an inspiring turn as Cranston’s partner, although as the film progresses his involvement sadly becomes smaller as Cranston’s notoriety with the cartel rises. Diane Kruger and Benjamin Bratt turn in some stellar supporting work. Even Olympia Dukakis shows up and gets some good laughs without feeling out of place.
The laughs, or more accurately moments of levity, are one of the films stronger suits. With the material the film is based on it could easily have been a very straight laced and dour retelling of history. Instead, the film consistently feels a bit lighter thanks to the organic comedy that comes from the human experience. Even criminals find time to smile. With such an amazing well-rounded and talented cast it never comes off as cheap. The intensity is still griping and when a threat is imminent the audience shares in that dread. There’s just random human moments that allow the material to breathe and it makes for a much more rewarding experience.
If I had any issue with the film it was simply that things work out a little too easily at times. That’s not to knock the tension the film is often able to build but it never seems truly that hard for Mazur to make his way into the cartel’s hands and hearts. I don’t so much put this on the film as I do the source material. Anytime someone writes their own history, it’s bound to leave a sense of questioning what truly happened. It helps that Cranston is so overwhelmingly charming. You tend to believe that anyone would buy what he’s selling.
The Infiltrator is yet another strong film for director Brad Furman. His Lincoln Lawyer is quite exceptional and while I personally wasn’t a fan of his follow up, Runner Runner, it certainly had its moments. Here Furman seems to finally be hitting his stride. He’s clearly got some Mann and Scorscese in him on the fringes but manages to still churn out a product that feels original and his own. I’m quite interested to see where he goes from here.
Out of 5 Nerdskulls:
Story: 4 / Acting: 5 /Directing: 4 /Visuals: 4
Overall: 4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Check out the trailer below:
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