Starring Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt, Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis
Subdued thriller “The Infiltrator” is everything last years’ “Black Mass” wasn’t. While Bryan Cranston’s performance in “Trumbo” likely nudged Johnny Depp out of the best actor race in 2015. The “Breaking Bad” actor might have a more difficult time with a consecutive nod, especially for a film landing so early in the year. Another lite best actor race could again serve Cranston who has smoothly made the transition from television to film, becoming one of the most compelling talents on the big screen. The supporting cast is equally as impressive, especially when it offers up strong female roles. Director Brad Furman (“Lincoln Lawyer”, “Runner Runner”) as a filmmaker is still in hit or miss territory, but proves tremendous growth with “The Infiltrator”.
Following the success of their latest undercover drug bust, Robert Mazur (Cranston) is offered retirement, in which he turns down. It’s 1985, the height of the cocaine importation, mostly through Southern Florida. Mazur and his team begin their latest infiltration in which the FBI wants to make headlines as the largest bust ever. They are going after the top drug cartels, leading all the way to Pablo Escobar himself. Mazur’s wife (Juliet Aubrey) is fearful of the danger her husband’s work is bringing into their home. Mazur’s ability to sell his money laundering identity all the way up the chain means he begins to care about the people he is lying to, despite their criminal involvement.
“The Infiltrator” has a unique way in which it presents suspense, it sneaks up on you without realizing it’s even there.
For a first time screenwriter, Ellen Sue Brown is very perceptive with embedding the viewer in the time period. When Mazur receives a beep on a pager during a parent teacher conference, his action and reaction feels authentic and almost comical compared to how that scenario might play out in modern day. Scene after scene we see Furman focus on smaller, intimate behavioral details that give the audience reason to invest in the characters. Leguizamo has a great moment where a very bloody and dangerous scenario plays out, nearly exposing his cover. The shocking scene gets a jolt from the audience, but more importantly, the camera goes in tight on Emir Abreu (Leguizamo), struggling with shock and fear, yet understanding his facial expressions and body language are his only remaining survival tools.
"The Infiltrator" isn’t a film that captivates immediately, it’s a slow introduction that eventually wins you over with cinematic intelligence. There is a moment where the script shifts from another undercover drug bust movie, to a different perspective on the sub-genre. For me that scene occurred with Mazur out celebrating his nearly forgotten anniversary, abruptly confronted by someone who recognizes his undercover persona. It’s a Godfather-esque scene, played brilliantly by Cranston, switching effortlessly back into his alternate identity to his wife’s horror. Cranston, much like in “Trumbo”, is again surrounded by a terrific supporting cast including Kruger (“Inglorious Bastards”) and two vivacious scenes from Dukakis (“Steel Magnolias”). “The Infiltrator” has a unique way in which it presents suspense, it sneaks up on you without realizing it’s even there. “One wrong word, one slip. We have to be careful,” Mazur acknowledges when they get in too deep. The film’s drawbacks would be the vast amount of characters, keeping up with their identities, the locations and their affiliates. It’s over two hours, but so interesting you never notice.
Cranston delivers the years first best actor worthy performance.