“Based off of actual events”, the final warning that the film you’re about to see is going to offer you the full breadth of the genuinely talent method actors cast without the overly edited summer tent-pole fast edits, green screens, explosion riddled films. What you’re going to get is a grounded, down to earth film that’s pushed by story and performances. “Based off of actual events” represent an opportunity to catch something real, performances and action. Whether it’s John Krasinski’s surprising dramatical turn in 13 Hours or the charm of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Walk, you’re will be taken on a journey that’s going to inspire and move your soul, or really mess you the hell up – either way, it will be an interesting two hours.
The Infiltrator is no different. Brad Furman, director of The Lincoln Lawyer, adapts the autobiography of undercover U.S. customs agent, Robert Mazur. The agent who went undercover in an operation that busted Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering organization in the 1980’s. Furman’s managed to work with an impressive list of cast in his nine years as a film director with the likes of Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, William H. Macy, Anthony Mackie, and Bryan Cranston. And when you look at his latest film, it’s easy to see why. Furman’s strong focus on character allows for their actions to push and drive the story. You’re with Cranston’s Mazur as he’s wrestling with his choices while he’s sitting in the mansion of one of the main collectors of cash for the Medellín Cartel in the United States. And the tension is always heavy because Furman allows you that time to get behind these characters.
Furman’s strong grasp of tempo allows that tension to play in a way that never seems over done and always pushes the character. Right from the start of the film when you meet Cranston’s Mazur on assignment undercover. Mazur’s meeting with a low level cartel dealer and exchanging money. The whole time, the wire on his chest is short circuiting and burning his skin. Furman follows Mazur as he thinks on his feet, through the pain. As we follow Mazur deeper into this world, we’re met with dingy cartel safe houses, back rooms, that feel just as real and legitimate to this world as Benjamin Bratt’s Roberto Alcanio’s mansion. Cranston continues to push his reputation as once of the best character actors of his generation. A far cry from his days as sitcom days, Cranston allows the full weight of Mazur’s choices to fall on his shoulders. To Cranston’s credit, he keeps that weight there. Often questioning if what they’re doing is the right thing. If arresting a man who he can call his friend, Alcanio, and destroying the lives of Alcanio’s wife and daughter is the right thing to do. Credit to Furman for giving no clear side in this debate – always pushing the character. And I’m going to note the irony of Bryan Cranston playing a character trying to take down the drug trade. Fun fact, Heisenberg has actually talked about Mazur’s biography in Breaking Bad.
Criminally underrated actor, John Leguizamo plays Mazur’s partner, Emir Abreu. Leguizamo plays Abreu as perhaps the most honest person in the film – even when Abreu is in cover as someone else. Leguizamo brings a shiftiness to Abreu that rapidly turns him into a character that nearly steals the show from Cranston. I wanted to see more of Abreu as his character opened up, but he nearly disappears for most of the second act when his character was starting down a truly interesting path. Also bringing up the biggest – if not the only – issue with this film. This is a true ensemble piece with nearly 20 characters that have significance to the core group. Several truly great characters and performances go as nearly as fast as they enter the story, like the legendary Olympia Dukakis, Mazur’s Aunt Vicky. Dukakis is in the film for about five minutes and creates such a broad character that is so unexplained that it’s almost frustrating that you don’t learn anything about her. Same story for Amy Ryan who’s character, Bonni Tischler, Mazer and Abreu’s boss, has more balls than everyone of of the cartel alpha males in this film.
As frustrating as these small parts are, you can see why it’s done as Furman keeps the story almost always on Mazur. And I would rather have great actor’s fill small parts as oppose to the actors that wouldn’t be able to keep up to Cranston. Absolutely credit to Furman for bringing his best in casting nearly every role with truly great actors. Diane Kruger continues Furman’s role of brilliant casting especially when it comes to his female characters. Credit to Kruger and Furman for not allowing Kruger’s custom’s agent, Kathy Ertz, a late edition to Mazur’s team, to be just another pretty face. Furman allows Ertz to truly come into her own in a truly male dominated world of drug cartels. Kruger plays Ertz as quick thinking and really comes into her own in the third act as she struggles with the same conflicts as Mazur.
And Ertz and Mazur’s conflict revolves around Benjamin Bratt’s Roberto Alcanio. Mazur and Ertz get close enough to Alcanio in their cover identities that the lines begin to blur for Mazur about what he’s doing and the lives he destroys by his customs busts. To Bratt’s credit, he plays Alcanio as exactly that. Alcanio is open, honest and passionate in a world of back alley deals, strippers, and guns to the back of the head. And when it all leads to the climax, you believe the rage in Alcanio’s eyes.
This is why the film works so well. Furman allowing his character’s moments to drive the story, as oppose to the action driving the story, allows for the climax to have a weight to it that you can’t find in a the summer tent-pole movies. Everyone one of these characters knows far more than they let on, and when they chose to reveal it, you’re with it. Because of these performances.
Where as this isn’t a perfect film. And it’s certainly not a summer tent-pole film. Furman’s directing has brought out performances from his cast that make this one of the best films of this summer and easily four out of five stars. And as this certainly won’t make as much as the films it’s playing with in theatres currently, Suicide Squad, Star Trek for example, The Infiltrator shows that regardless how large and epic movies are getting there is always going to movies where the character comes first.