FILM REVIEW – THE INFILTRATOR. With Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Olympia Dukakis, Diane Kruger. Written by Ellen Brown Furman. Directed by Brad Furman. Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material. 127 minutes.
One of the great operations against an international conspiracy occurred in the 1980s when Federal agents, targeting Pablo Escobar and the Colombian drug cartel, hit them where it hurt by following the money, and the story of that is told pretty well in THE INFILTRATOR. Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) was key to that, going undercover to track their money laundering operation. While it didn’t directly take down Escobar, it put a major dent in his operation and did expose and eventually shut down BCCI, then the world’s seventh largest privately-held bank.
While the movie takes dramatic liberties with the story (the climactic scene, for example, didn’t occur the way it is presented), it is essentially true, focusing on two intertwined storylines. First, of course, is Operation C-Chase, the combined Federal effort against the cocaine smuggling and money laundering operation. We get a sense of just how large and involved the criminal conspiracy is, ranging from jungles in Colombia to executive suites in the U.S. and Europe.
Just as important–and just as complex–is the focus on the costs of going undercover. Mazur and his partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) spent five years pretending to be financial fixers who could move money across international lines without drawing the attention of the U. S. government. In a sense, they were con men, earning the confidence of the drug dealers and bankers, all the while surreptiously recording them and amassing evidence.
At times, according to the film, it could be fun. Mazur gets to live large in order to impress others and work his way up the financial food chain. At times it could be dangerous, as these were men playing for keeps. The only “severance package” the drug cartel offered was a bullet to the head, and that’s if they chose to do it quickly. And it could get complicated, as Mazur–married in real ife (Juliet Aubrey plays his wife)–gets out of a situation with a hooker by announcing his engagement. Subsequently he has to produce his fiancée (Diane Kruger), played by another agent who turns out to have no undercover experience.
It is their relationship with Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife where we see the psychological toll such operations take on undercover agents. The two couples become friendly and enjoy time together, with the two agents knowing that they are lying to the Alcainos, eventually betraying their trust. It’s no wonder that Mazur is asked at one point if he needs to see the staff psychologist.
The movie works as both the story of an anti-crime operation and a drama about one of the people who took great risks to get the job done. Bryan Cranston has become a character actor who can command attention in leading roles, and he shows why here, moving effortlessly between lighter moments and those of intense drama. The rest of the cast is solid, with Bratt sympathetic as Escobar’s chief money man in the U.S., and Olympia Dukakis stealing her couple of scenes as Mazur’s cagy aunt. Aubrey, Kruger, and Amy Adams (as Mazur’s prickly boss), offer a strong lineup of female characters that is surprising in a film like this.
Smart and action-packed, “The Infiltrator” is a worthy addition to the summer lineup.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.