More than twenty tears ago, actor Bryan Cranston had a small recurring role on the Seinfeld show. He played Tim Whatley, a dentist. While Seinfeld has retired from broadcast TV (he now visits friends and takes them out for a coffee and some chuckles). Cranston on the other hand, has moved on to bigger and better roles.
Like Walter White, the ubiquitous every man who became the ruthless King of Meth in Breaking Bad. Like the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo. Like former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson both on stage and in the TV movie All The Way.
Cranston’s latest film, called The Infiltrator, opened today. Cranston plays Robert Mazur, an agent for the U.S. Customs Department who comes up with the idea that instead of tracking the drugs to lead them to cartel leaders, they would follow the money instead.
Mazur poses as one Robert Muselli, a big-time money launderer. John Leguizamo plays Emir Abreu, an undercover agent who has the necessary street creds and lower level connections to get the introductions that Muselli/Mazur needs.
Benjamin Bratt plays Roberto Alcaino who is Pablo Escobar’s main drug distributor. Diane Kruger plays Kathy Ertz who poses as Muselli’s fiance.
Amy Ryan (The Wire) is on hand as Mazur’s tough boss. Yul Vazquez is on hand as another of Escobar’s front men, his investments manager to be precise – one Javier Ospina.
The rest of the cast is the usual suspects – crooked bankers, cartel muscle, family members (kids and wives) and assorted fringe US Customs agents and lawyers.
The setting is the mid 80’s during the Ronald Regan era. Mazur is nearing his retirement but he agrees to go undercover after his boss lets her guys know that the word has come down from Washington DC. They want the biggest bust ever with the ultimate target being Don Pablo (Escobar). The fact that Mazur has agreed to this ‘last’ job is severely disappointing to his wife (played by Juliet Aubrey).
Okay, the premise is not new, and the film isn’t about excesses in anyone’s life-style. Yes, there are private jets but not so much in the way of luxurious mansions, yachts, and expensive cars. In fact, apart from Mazur/Muselli having to look like a successful businessman on occasion, the film, while decidedly not a low-rent production, definitely lacks the glitz and glamour that you might associate in a film about drug lords and cartels.
While I won’t go as far as saying that the film isn’t any good, I was disappointed. Cranston, Bratt, Kruger, and Leguizamo are all effective. Mazur/Muselli is tough when necessary (I don’t do business under threat) and tender with his wife and family when needed.
Leguizamo is, as expected and as usual, a motor-mouth kind of guy. Bratt is good as the suave distributor Alcaino. Kruger seems to know way more than she should – this is actually her first undercover assignment.
The film doesn’t quite rocket down the rails. Meaning it is far from fast paced. They give you enough blood (two guys get their brains blown out) and there’s an assassination that goes down so that you won’t get bored.
But my opinion is that film doesn’t really provide enough action, menace or tension. When Mazur/Muselli demands to meet Alcaino, he’s taken blindfolded to a secret location. There he’s in the midst of what might be a Santeria shrine and ceremony. Another man is with him and that man will lose his life. So Muselli appears to be within inches of losing his as well.
But what we have in Mazur is a hero in the sense of his morality. Mazur and Abreu are not Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs of Miami Vice. Mazur doesn’t do drugs, he doesn’t take advantage of the women that are offered to him. He remains loyal to his marriage and family. He also remains loyal to his job which is to get the assignment done and successfully.
Since all the characters are in fact real life – Mazur himself wrote a book about his five years as an underc0ver – we are left to wonder about how he is able to successfully partner with Leguizamo’s Abreu who would love nothing more than to do drugs, to party, and to take advantage of the sexual treats that could be offered to him.
Mazur on the other is working with stunning Kruger who is posing as wife to be. Yet, we are left to interpret their relationship as chaste. On the down side of the straight arrow hero, we are tasked with having to listen to mucho talk about trust and loyalty. Spoken by both Cranston’s Mazur/Muselli as well as Bratt’s Alcaino.
My take is that I enjoyed Sicario and Narcos more. I liked Blow more. I found the stress and tension to be nearly underwhelming. This is an actor’s film that lacks a great script, and director Brad Furman provides only a workman like job. There’s no flourishes or jaw-dropping action set pieces.
In summary if you are intrigued by the time and setting, Tampa and Miami in the mid 80’s, and the fact that this is about an under cover operation, don’t expect a Miami Vice or an American Hustle. This film is kind of like those but not really.
I’ll rate the film, at best, at three-point zero on the one to five scale. Check out the trailer: