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Cranston’s Great Undercover In ‘The Infiltrator’ (Movie Review)

infiltrator thumbThere’s something to be said for how compelling post-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston is. At 60-years old, the actor is about 20 years too old to be playing U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur, the man who went undercover to infiltrate the money-laundering organization of drug lord Pablo Escobar. Still, his rugged face is one full of character, making it easy to find a film like The Infiltrator quite engaging, despite how familiar it all feels.

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It may be based on a true story many, at most, may only have slim knowledge of because of the name Pablo Escobar, but you’ve seen The Infiltrator before. Robert Mazur is one of the best of the best when it comes to going undercover, but he also doesn’t know when to quit, despite having a wife (Juliet Aubrey) and two kids. His latest assignment has him partnering up with Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), a livewire agent, so they can work together to get into the world of the largest drug cartel.

A story like this provides all the drama and varying levels of tension you expect. Mazur is equipped to make nice with seedy characters and bringing himself close to a dangerous line, while keeping his worried wife calm. Huge figures in the cartel world (I’m looking at Benjamin Bratt, who nails this role for the umpteenth time and the second time this year) become friends with Mazur, who sees the nicer side of a guy like this, because he also cares for his family. There are even the various stressful moments where tape recorders are revealed and certain guys detail the level of trust they have with the undercover cops around them.

All of this, which calls to mind plenty of films including Donnie Brasco, Infernal Affairs, The Departed, Serpico, American Hustle and more, and the film still works. Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) brings a level of style (slightly limited by its budget) to the proceedings that play very well to Cranston’s advantage. What the film lacks in nuance or even basic logic when it comes to telling us what the ultimate goal is and the span of time that is passing, it makes up for in placing Mazur front and center in nearly every scene.

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Rarely could a film manage to forget certain plot developments, yet still be compelling to watch. Ellen Brown Furman (the director’s mother) adapted the screenplay from Mazur’s own memoir and seems to have chosen all the standard parts you find in these sorts of tales, but managed to inject the right amount of character life into most of the scenes. Rather than follow up on a sequence involving a ritual killing in Colombia, the film is more content in showing the budding relationship between Cranston and Bratt’s characters, as if they were drinking buddies. Instead of putting more focus on the darkness that comes with having dual personas, we see Mazur jogging a lot. It is strange, but it kind of works.

While most certainly a drama, the film is not without a level of wit and charm. Joe Gilgun (currently killing it on Preacher) has a supporting role as a criminal on furlough, to serve as Mazur’s adviser on how to act more like a crooked businessman and be able to deal with the various drug lords. Amy Ryan seems to relish playing a no-nonsense superior. Leguizamo goes Full Leguizamo. And then you have Diane Kruger stepping in, after Mazur’s undercover persona is put in a position where he needs a fiancé to be around him. It adds some interesting/contrived direction for the film to go, but it also means we get to see a fake wedding, as the film pushes its (partially real life-inspired) story to the limit.

Yes, the film actually still works with all of this. Call it a dedication to being what it is, but while The Infiltrator may not have much to show in the way of ambition (unless you enjoy one long tracking shot to make you aware Furman has seen a Scorsese film or two), it does ‘gangster drama’ pretty well. It is certainly better than something like Black Mass, as the film is far more than just accents. Cranston is the big sell here. For all the oddness found in this film, he knows how to both overplay and underplay various scenes and hold it all together. Let’s just hope Cranston moves onto a more original role next.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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