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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 29
Tension-filled Infiltrator a solidly absorbing real-life thriller
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Tension-filled Infiltrator a solidly absorbing real-life thriller

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE INFILTRATOR
Now playing


After a major bust leaves him injured, Federal Agent Robert 'Bob' Mazur (Bryan Cranston) could have retired with full benefits. But the veteran undercover operative has a new idea, one that could snare a number of major players in the world of international drug smuggling and money laundering. He wants to hurt the Columbian cartels where it matters most to them, in the pocketbook, and even with his long-suffering wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey) urging him to call it a career, Bob just wouldn't feel good about himself if he didn't see this job all the way through until the end.

Working with a new partner, freewheeling undercover operative Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), the pair quickly find themselves climbing the ladder of Columbian and Panamanian bigwigs, including Pablo Escobar confidant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). With the help of rookie Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), forced to pretend to be his amorous fiancé after a monetary slip of the tongue on Bob's part, the veteran agent discovers he's actually starting to like Roberto and his lovely wife Gloria (Elena Anaya). But the job still comes first, and friendship can't be a part of the equation, and if Bob or his team thought they were going to ensnare game this big without suffering a few bumps and bruises during the hunt they'd have been dead wrong.

Adapted from Mazur's 2009 book The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's MedellĂ­n Cartel, director Brad Furman's The Infiltrator is a strong return to the form he confidently displayed with 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer and somehow lost hold of with 2013's disastrous Runner Runner. Working from a detailed, highly literate script by his mother Ellen Brown Furman, the filmmaker displays a kinetic versatility organizing and shaping all of the based-on-fact thrills and chills that drive this story to its conclusion. While he isn't reinventing the genre wheel, Furman still manages to craft a film that captures the attention right from the get-go all the same, and as such this tidy little suspenser had me suitably captivated for all of its briskly paced 127 minutes.

Still, it does feel like in some ways the director's latest could have delivered even more of a punch. I'm normally one to applaud brevity, but in the case of The Infiltrator less isn't necessarily more. The relationship between Bob and Kathy could have carried some additional weight, and as such their blossoming friendship with Roberto and Gloria doesn't build to the type of shattering conclusion it so richly deserves. The intricacies of the financial puzzle the agents are deconstructing can also be more than a little confusing, and as such keeping track of who is who and what part they play in all of this drug-fueled madness is oftentimes difficult. As for supporting player Joseph Gilgun (playing a mob enforcer who owes Bob some sort of debt and so joins him in attempting to bring down Escobar's cartel), I kept feeling like there was far more to the story than the movie was given the opportunity to tell, his character too ephemeral to matter yet too intriguing to comfortably dismiss.

It is a testament then to just how universally strong the acting is and how grand the set pieces Furman engineers are that the film ends up mattering near as much as it does. There is a phenomenal sequence involving Leguizamo dealing with his primary snitch, a sequence that builds in electrifying intensity as it hurtles towards its conclusion. There's also a sensational moment where Cranston is blindfolded and take to a secret location to meet with another of Escobar's lieutenants (terrifically underplayed by Yul Vazquez), the extents the Columbians go to ensure he's someone they think they can trust chilling to the core.

Amy Ryan steals scenes left and right as the hard-changing agent in charge of the operation, while Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis pops up in a delightful cameo as one of Bob's relations who just so happens to be the perfect person to help him cement his growing relationship with the pensive, intelligently cautious Roberto. As for Bratt, he's superb, delivering his best performance since 2009's La Mission, maybe even surpassing his Emmy-nominated work on 'Law & Order,' the avalanche of emotional cadences he circles through during the climax extraordinary.

But as good as they all are (and I haven't even mentioned Kruger or Aubrey, both of whom are divine), unsurprisingly the reason to get excited about all of this is Cranston and, to a slightly lesser extent, Leguizamo, both of whom are just marvelous. The former inhabits Bob with ease, while the latter makes, not just the most of his limited screen time, but also gives one of the finest performances of his entire career. Together they make for an invigorating Mutt and Jeff team, their insecurities and apprehensions of being forced to work with one another authentically giving way over time to a form of mutual understanding and respect that's just about perfect.

Like he did with The Lincoln Lawyer, Furman shows a knack for this kind of down-and-dirty genre fare. While the movie never gets as deep as I maybe would have liked it to, that doesn't make it any less absorbing. Mazur's story just defies belief, the fact it all happened, he and his team's efforts leading to one of the biggest international drug busts in recent history, comes close to blowing the mind. All of which helps make The Infiltrator a memorable, tension-filled thriller well worth the price of a ticket, one I'd be happy to give a second look to sometime in the very near future.

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