Thursday, July 14, 2016

In Theaters: THE INFILTRATOR (2016)

(US/UK - 2016)

Directed by Brad Furman. Written by Ellen Brown Furman. Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Amy Ryan, Yul Vazquez, Juliet Aubrey, Joseph Gilgun, Elena Anaya, Jason Isaacs, Said Taghmaoui, Art Malik, Olympia Dukakis, Simon Andreu, Michael Pare, Ruben Ochandiano, Carsten Hayes, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Ashley Bannerman, Juan Cely, Andy Beckwith, Xarah Xavier, Daniel Mays. (R, 127 mins)

Based on the memoir by US Customs special agent Robert Mazur, THE INFILTRATOR chronicles the mid '80s takedown of an extensive, global money laundering operation with ties to Pablo Escobar's Medellin cartel, and somehow manages to do it without featuring Benicio Del Toro in any capacity (though it does co-star reliable second-string Del Toro Benjamin Bratt). It's 1985 and Mazur, played here by Bryan Cranston, realizes the agency isn't getting anywhere with simple drug busts, and instead hatches a plan to follow the money. A veteran of intense undercover work, the Tampa-based Mazur is reluctantly teamed with hot-dogging, hair-trigger agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo, cast radically against type as "John Leguizamo"), with Mazur posing as a mob-connected New Jersey businessman named Bob Musella. As Musella, Mazur works his way into Tampa drug circles and finds an in with low-level Medellin flunkies Gonzalo Mora Sr (Eurocult vet Simon Andreu sighting!) and his hard-partying cokehead son Gonzalo Jr (Ruben Ochandiano). This leads him a little further up the ladder to the flamboyant, bisexual Javier Ospina (Yul Vazquez), who's always accompanied by a silent mystery woman straight out of SALON KITTY (Xarah Xavier), and makes an awkward pass at Mazur/Musella by fondling him when they're alone. Musella sets up money laundering operations using reputable banks all over the world, most of which are well aware of what they're doing but are OK with it as long as the cash keeps flowing. Mazur/Musella becomes a big enough player that he--along with rookie agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), pressed into service when the married Mazur impulsively invents a fiancee to avoid cheating on his wife with a stripper supplied to him by Gonzalo Jr--becomes a trusted associate of Roberto Alcaino (Bratt), a key figure in Escobar's inner circle.

Directed by Brad Furman (THE LINCOLN LAWYER) and scripted by his mother Ellen Brown Furman, THE INFILTRATOR has little new to offer to the "deep undercover" subgenre. There's the inevitable scenes of Mazur/Musella almost being exposed, whether someone catches a glimpse of the recording device planted in his briefcase or, in a scene that's pretty much mandatory in this kind of movie, the wire he's wearing malfunctions and starts burning through his skin. Mazur's marriage goes through the usual melodramatic checklist that culminates in his extremely patient wife Ev (Juliet Aubrey) giving him the "I don't even know who you are anymore" glare that's crosscut with a kicked-out Mazur lying in bed in a dingy motel room, thousand-yard-staring across the room, flicking the bedside lamp on and off FATAL ATTRACTION-style, pondering What I've Become. That happens about an hour and a half in, and honestly, THE INFILTRATOR almost lost me at that moment. I mean, seriously. Give us a fucking break, Furmans.

In spite of its stumbles, THE INFILTRATOR is a moderately diverting time-killer that gets a lot of mileage out of a miscast Cranston who, at 60, is probably at least 15 years too old for this role. Cranston is such a dynamic actor that he can sell virtually anything (the barely-released COLD COMES THE NIGHT is the only bad Cranston performance I've seen). He's given able support by Leguizamo, who can play this kind of role in his sleep, and Bratt, who's really perfected the Corinthian leather purr of the great Ricardo Montalban. Other recognizable character actors appear throughout the story, like Amy Ryan as Mazur's bitch-on-wheels boss; Jason Isaacs as a hapless government lawyer; Olympia Dukakis as Mazur's aunt, improbably and recklessly included in one of his undercover jobs; Michael Pare as doomed smuggler and informant Barry Seal; Said Taghmaoui and Art Malik as a pair of corrupt Panamanian banking execs; and Joseph Gilgun in what's probably a composite character, a violent felon and past Mazur informant sprung from the joint to function as Musella's bodyguard and all-knowing expert on the ways of the underworld. The film plays far too fast and loose with the facts (Seals' death in the film is not how it went down, and the final sting operation at a wedding is complete fiction) and gets by on its performances and  some set pieces that Furman would have to be a moron to screw up (one certain future YouTube highlight is Gonzalo Sr. happening upon an off-the-clock Mazur and his wife at their anniversary dinner). Furman lays on the Scorsese worship pretty thick at times--he really loves the "Steadicam following Cranston" bit--but he has some cool choices in classic rock, from an undercover Mazur's beginning-of-the-film intro striding into a bowling alley accompanied by Rush's "Tom Sawyer" to a long, ambitious, CHILDREN OF MEN-type tracking shot where the camera snakes around to introduce all the major players at the climactic wedding--a staged event to lure all the targets to Musella and Kathy's fake nuptials--set to The Who's "Eminence Front." One detriment to THE INFILTRATOR is that it's one of the cheapest-looking $47 million productions you'll ever see, with its saturated, fake-grainy look and some unconvincing greenscreen sticking out like a sore thumb, a good indicator that the money went to the cast and the song licensing. I generally liked THE INFILTRATOR--it's got Cranston, some genuine suspense, and it's never boring, but it's crying out for something more than the workmanlike Brad Furman is able to deliver. Maybe it's the presence of Leguizamo bringing back some fond memories of CARLITO'S WAY, but on several occasions, I kept thinking of how this could've turned out in the hands of an in-his-prime Brian De Palma.

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