The Infiltrator [Review by Haus]
You know the type. Some high-wattage actors get all mustached, gold-chained, and spread-collared and take on the eighties. And that’s pretty much what happens here. With Bryan Cranston!
On the tail of the successful series Narcos comes The Infiltrator, the story of a slightly less dramatic undercover sting that chased the money, not the coke. It’s not a great film, but it’s a solid genre base hit and entertaining, if a tad too drawn out.
Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur, a government agent who goes deep as Bob Musella, a mob-connected money launderer. Teaming up with Emir Abreau (John Leguizamo) and his cover-fiance Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), Mazur brokers some cash-washing deals between the Medellin folks and a big investment bank, and we follow the trail as it leads deeper in and higher up.
The story is based on real-life Mazur’s equally real-life book, and frankly isn’t terribly interesting (as, to be fair, I suspect many other true bust tales probably are not). And the fact that real-life Mazur wrote the real-life book also presumably accounts for the ultra-pure, good-guy undergirding of Cranston’s protagonist in the film. Whitewash? So be it. The victors write the history, and all that.
Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) tries to spice things up with a dusting of sexual tension between Mazur and his cover girl (will they or won’t they?); there’s also a feely bromance with Benjamin Bratt, who plays the gleaming, wholesome gentleman of the drug trade. Mazur and Ertz form earnest friendships with Bratt and his family, hinting that when the time comes it might be hard for Mazur to sell his pals down the river.
Except it’s not. Said friendships feel too forced and phony, and Bratt’s genteel drug lord character strains credibility — he’s just too polite and wholesome and nice. There’s no real doubt that goodie-goodie Cranston will do the right thing in the end.
But that doesn’t make The Infiltrator a bad movie. For starters, Cranston is a really terrific actor. Even in a throwaway opening vignette with a bowling alley waitress, his microexpressions just seep realism. His performance here is fantastic, and it’s worth watching this movie just for him. The supporting cast is earnest and hardworking and generally believable. There also are some pretty locations, great fashions, flamboyant characters, classic meanies, and crisp shots. It all comes together quite nicely.
And then it stays there. The Infiltrator falls short (long?) in its pacing, running probably a half hour past its bedtime. It’s perhaps hard to fault Furman for this, given that he was directing from a script his own mother wrote (no joke — must be a first?). Happy Mother’s Day, I left your chaff in my picture! Either way, you might find yourself wondering when time’s up.
All told, The Infiltrator might not be best of breed, but it’s engaging, atmospheric, nicely shot, and offers an interesting take on the 80s drug war — one with fewer Uzis and drug mules and more middle eastern bankers. Relax and enjoy.
Haus Verdict: A touch too long and a touch too whitewashed, but a solid, engrossing, ultimately entertaining sting picture with a truly top-drawer performance by Bryan Cranston.
The Infiltrator opens July 13, 2016.
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