Review: In ‘The Infiltrator,’ Bryan Cranston Tunnels Into a Menacing Drug Network


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Bryan Cranston, left, and Michael Paré in “The Infiltrator.”

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Broad Green Pictures

In some ways, Bryan Cranston’s character in “The Infiltrator” is an alternate version of Walter White, the good-guy-turned-rotten he portrayed so magnetically in “Breaking Bad.” This seedy, drug-soaked thriller is based on a memoir by Robert Mazur (Mr. Cranston), a federal undercover agent who in 1986 posed as a high-rolling money launderer in a sting operation against Pablo Escobar’s Colombian drug cartel. Unlike Walter, Robert is a good guy who remains good when faced with temptation.

The movie, filmed mostly around Tampa with jaunts to Miami, presents a sour portrait of 1980s Florida, awash in white powder and dirty cash during the go-go years of the cocaine trade. Directed by Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer, “The Take”) from a screenplay by his mother, Ellen Brown Furman, it revisits the world of “Miami Vice,” minus the shiny glamour of that television hit. Under his alias, Bob Musella, Mr. Mazur arranged for the cartel’s excess cash to be funneled to the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which collapsed in 1991.

“The Infiltrator” has some of the ingredients of a Hollywood epic in the mode of “The Godfather” films but lacks their overarching historical vision. Robert is not a Shakespearean figure like Walter White, but the film at least grants him the moral stature of an incorruptible man risking his life in a dangerous job.

“The Infiltrator” is still a good yarn that, when it catches its breath, allows Mr. Cranston to convey the same ambivalence and cunning he brought to “Breaking Bad” and “All the Way,” the HBO biopic of President Lyndon B. Johnson adapted from the Broadway play that won Mr. Cranston a Tony for best actor. Even when playing a nice upstanding guy, Mr. Cranston’s approach is complicated.

Few stars exude his piercing analytical intelligence. By turns professorial and diabolically cunning, with narrowed eyes, his mouth a slit in a weathered face with clenched jaw, Robert’s mind is continually churning. His flash of insight arrives early in the film when he suddenly realizes that instead of intercepting shipments in the cocaine supply chain, following the money to the cartel’s leaders would be a better way to wage the war on drugs.

Under the eye of his hard-boiled supervisor, Bonni (Amy Ryan), Robert at first works with a hotheaded undercover agent, Emir (John Leguizamo), then begins a double life as Bob when he is paired with Kathy (Diane Kruger), a smart, stingingly beautiful rookie undercover agent posing as his fiancée.

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Trailer: ‘The Infiltrator’

A preview of the film.


By BROAD GREEN PICTURES on Publish Date May 26, 2016.


Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

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Now there are two Roberts, one a family man who lives modestly with his real wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), the other a flashily dressed, well-connected wheeler-dealer. Infiltrating the cartel, he systematically works his way up the ladder and connects the organization with international bankers who agree to launder the cartel’s wealth.

Robert’s double life has obvious parallels with Walter White’s dual existence in “Breaking Bad,” and the screenplay toys with the possibility of Robert’s crossing over to the dark side. Impersonating bogus, soon-to-be-married sweethearts, Robert and Kathy have to act like a couple in love, and they do it so convincingly you occasionally wonder if Robert is about to turn crooked and adulterous.

The two eventually become close friends of Escobar’s suave lieutenant, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), and his wife. In the film’s most melancholy moments, you’re aware that this budding friendship is built on a lie. Leavening the movie is some dark comedy. Bob has to fend off the sexual advances of Escobar’s crazy money manager, Javier Ospina (Yul Vázquez). Olympia Dukakis has two scenery-chewing turns as Robert’s greedy, boastful, tough-talking aunt.

In scarier bits, he also endures a weird voodoo ritual in which the man next to him is shot to death. His cover is almost blown while at a restaurant with Evelyn when he spots a drug associate and abruptly fakes a psychopathic fit of rage.

“The Infiltrator” goes out of its way to portray the cartel members with whom Robert consorts as crude, ugly sociopaths. The money neatly stacked in suitcases looks grubby, and the lap dances provided by strippers to Escobar’s thugs feel drab, mechanical and unsexy.

There is no subtle glorification of outlaw machismo. When one character casually describes in detail how traitors are tortured and killed so they will experience maximum agony, his words give you shivers. The evil feels all too real.

“The Infiltrator” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for violence, strong throughout, and some sexual content and drug-related material. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes.

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