Robert Mazur is a US Customs special agent. He regularly goes under cover to make drug stings. When we first see him, Mazur (Bryan Cranston) is in the middle of a bust. There’s trouble, but his professionalism carries the day. He wraps up the case and destroys his fake IDs as a kind of end ritual. He’s proud of the work he does, but he is glad to leave his sketchy undercover persona behind, so he can return to his wife and his kids. Mazur is presented as a straight arrow whose essential squareness sometimes threatens the believability of the phony characters he plays when building a case. Certainly his new partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), thinks so. Abreu is a loose cannon, who has utter confidence in his own authenticity when consorting with snitches and even badder guys.
It is 1986 and Mazur and his colleagues are following the money trail created by Medellín drug lord Pablo Escobar. This investigation is code-named Operation C-Chase and involves law enforcement in Europe, the UK and the USA. Mazur is now posing as a corrupt businessman Bob Musella who claims he can launder money for the drug cartel. The stakes are high. The men they are dealing with are not as predictable as the criminals Mazur is used to. They buy Colombian judges, police and politicians. The sheer money and influence they possess makes them amazingly powerful. The normal rules of conduct do not apply to them.
In order to secure the trust of Escobar money-man Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Bob Musella and his fictional fiancée—a new officer called Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger)—have to spend time with the Alcaino family. Here the line between the role and reality become blurred for Ertz and Mazur, because Roberto and his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya) are a charming and civilised couple with a teenage daughter. Mazur’s actual marriage threatens to fragment as a result of his long absences from home. His undercover work might be revealed at any moment, which could mean a literal bullet for him or one of his team. The pressure is on.
The fashion for re-telling drug stories involving Pablo Escobar continues with THE INFILTRATOR. The Netflix series Narcos has put this era back into the popular imagination (much to the chagrin of Colombians). The plotlines and situations here may remind older audience members of Ted Demme’s BLOW (2001) or Stephen Soderbergh’s TRAFFIC (2000) or even the Anthony Yerkovich television series Miami Vice (1984-89). Even though THE INFILTRATOR is based on the real-life Mazur’s account of Operation C-Chase, there is a certain familiarity about the material that probably reflects the thirty years it has taken to reach the screen. (Interestingly, Mazur was consulting on the 2006 movie remake of MIAMI VICE and was encouraged by director Michael Mann that the story of C-Chase could make a viable movie.)
The script is by a first time writer Ellen Furman, who does a solid job in creating an engaging story from some very dense material. The finished film runs for 127 minutes and apart from a slight slackening in the middle section, mostly holds its dramatic tension. Director Brad Furman (who is also the screenwriter’s son) has done well with his seasoned cast of pros. Bryan Cranston is as excellent as one would expect. Leguizamo’s restless energy is perfect for the street-wise Abreu. Benjamin Bratt is great as the smooth operator Alcaino. Amy Ryan is nicely cast against type as the fierce Customs’ leader Bonni Tischler. Diane Kruger is very fine in the role of newbie officer Ertz. And finally Joseph Gilgun does some some lovely work in a small part as a snitch who pretends to be Musella’s driver.
Although, there was nothing here I hadn’t seen in other movies or television, I still enjoyed the length and detail of this movie. The strength of the writing and the performances make this an entertaining entry into the crime genre (sub-category, The War on Drugs, 1980s).
THE INFILTRATOR opened in Australia this week. (7/10)