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THE INFILTRATOR (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Brad Furman
Starring: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger
Review by Gilbert Seah
THE INFILTRATOR is a true-life crime thriller based on true events outlined in federal agent Robert “Bob” Mazur’s 2009 memoir The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. Directed by Brad Furman who also made the similar THE LINCOLN LAWYER, THE INFILTRATOR shares the identical gritty, ethereal style.
The film is set in the mid-1980s. Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar’s cartel is flooding Florida with drugs and all the crime that comes with them. Mazur ( Bryan Cranston) is a mild family man working in U.S. Customs with a wife and two kids. But he begins leading a double life, going undercover as Bob Musella, a slick money-launderer with ties to legitimate business.
Furman takes his audience into a world of penthouses, private planes, stripper clubs, bespoke suits and dining so that a feel of the high life can be ‘appreciated’. Two fellow agents (John Leguizamo and Diane Kruger, the latter playing Musella’s fiancée) help Mazur while he as Musella deals with a variety of sordid characters including Escobar’s right-hand man (Benjamin Bratt).
In real life, Mazur’s sting operation led to the indictment of over 100 drug lords and the bankers who cleaned their money, and to the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, one of the world’s largest money-laundering banks.
The main flaw of the film is Furman’s failure to provide the motive for Mazur’s dedication in the undercover operation. In the film, Mazur promises his wife that this will be his last operation. His unrelenting boss (Amy Ryan) expects a lot from her staff and from Mazur, demanding more and more, saying that her staff has not proven their worth. Why would Mazur or anyone for that matter risk their own lives or family for a job that provides no reward or a boss that shows no gratitude?
Despite good actors that Cranston (displaying another acting aspect from BREAKING BAD) and Leguizamo (proving he can play comedy and drama) are, the uneasiness and desperation of the story comes from Furman’s direction. The film is evenly spaced with edge-of-the-seat suspenseful segments. One such example is Musella’s briefcase bursting open to reveal a tape recorder during a key meeting with the bad guys and another has him and his wife suddenly met with a crime associate in a restaurant during their wedding anniversary. As the camera reveals details in other parts of the film like a clock ticking, Furman keeps the suspense strong. The action sequences like the bike/car shoot out are also excitingly executed.
Furman’s film is noticeably short on humour. A bit of relief is however, provided by Olympia Dukakis as Musella’s aunt who helps him along the way.
True to life as THE INFILTRATOR is, Furman’s film is a brutal watch, in fact too brutal to be classified as entertainment. Furman gets his point across in terms of the gruel drama that Musella had to go through.
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