Starting his career off with two decent but not fantastic films, Brad Furman is a director that still manages to command some clout. The Take, for me, was an interesting direct to DVD crime thriller that was hampered by the acting skills of its star, Tyrese Gibson; and The Lincoln Lawyer really only succeeded because of the charisma of its lead actor, Matthew McConaughey. Then came Runner, Runner, pitting Justin Timberlake against a villainous Ben Affleck which came off as flat, clichéd and riddled with dry patches. I honestly don’t care for the grainy style Furman has made his own but the prospect of him doing the true story of Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs special agent who helped bring down Pablo Escobar’s operation, really had my interest. Adding Cranston in that lead role was just the icing on the cake that the new film The Infiltrator looked to be.
Just thinking on the outside of the production, this seemed to be a story that would fit that gritty style of Brad Furman perfectly. The tone in which this story needed to take on to succeed was one that Furman had running through all of his films, this time playing off of something real and gives a plum role to a main staple of his works, John Leguizamo, who has appeared in all of his features except for Runner, Runner. Then there’s the odd part. The Infiltrator’s screenplay was adapted by Furman’s mother, which brings supportiveness to a whole new level, but in reality, this is nothing new, as mother and son had been trying to make something work for twenty-five years. So, was this the perfect culmination?
As said before, Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur, a U.S Customs agent who spent a lot of his career in deep cover making successful drug busts. In the opening of the film in 1985, we see him take down a sizeable drug dealer, but having to fake a heart attack near the end of the sting because the wiretap taped to his chest started to burn him. Having been injured in the field, Mazur is eligible for an early retirement but is easily persuaded when fellow agent, Emir Abreu, approaches him with a tip from his criminal informant. Mazur sees a bigger picture than what his brash and antsy counterpart sees and the two begin the groundwork for a large undercover operation that could possibly take down Pablo Escobar and his captains.
This requires big moves as using Abreu as the mouthpiece along with his CI doesn’t seem to gather the clout that they need for the involvement of a top level member of Escobar’s circle. Mazur then invents Bob Musella, a wealthy accountant who claims to be the best money launderer working, the most valuable asset to any drug organization. Always under the pressure of protecting his real life and trying to think on the fly, Mazur accidentally makes up a fiancée to get himself out of a situation, causing customs to appoint him a partner (Diane Kruger). The pairing inadvertently furthers the case and the undercover couple starts to make headway to a main cog in the organization, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), but causes problems with Mazur’s actual wife.
Bryan Cranston is the biggest reason that The Infiltrator works at all. On one side of Robert Mazur is the lawman, charged with taking down a deadly international group that funnels billions of dollars in and out of the country and tons of cocaine. Then there’s Musella, a side of the character the Cranston allows himself to slip into a little of that Walter White and Breaking Bad attitude to give some of that hard edge he would need to have to be convincing. The interesting thing for the character and to anyone looking into the psychology of the situation, all of the power and influence that Mazur exudes as Musella really starts to grow on him. He starts to like Bob.
Unfortunately, Cranston seems to be the only consistently great thing about this movie and even he has a few moments that put the film on shaky ground. It seems that Brad Furman and Ellen Brown Furman got so lost in making a gangster crime thriller that they forgot about the reality of the film and instead get lost in clichés in the genre. It starts with Cranston giving a clunky and groan-inducing analogy about what side of the road these criminals walk on and just starts to slide into grinning psychopaths in sunglasses, nonsensical meetings only for tense intimidations and thinly veiled threats.
I really thought, as I was preparing to watch my screening of The Infiltrator, that I may be witness to the first truly great Brad Furman movie, given how long he had been waiting to collaborate with a writer who, well, has known him since birth and a subject matter that would take big blunders to screw up. Instead, this film really wants to be Scarface or Donnie Brasco and doesn’t even try to pull out of being compared to movies like that. In no way does The Infiltrator stand on its own and constantly reminds you of better films and better stories told within the genre an may even drive you to watch those movies instead, making this one pretty forgettable in the end. I wanted a better movie and I’m sure the audience will too. This one is a two and a half out of five.