Creative Accounting With The Infiltrator
The Infiltrator takes a look at a CIA operation that made its way inside Pablo Escobar's notorious drug cartel. Bryan Cranston stars as Robert Mazur, a CIA undercover operative in 1980s Miami who's no stranger to high-risk situations. He, in fact, had some health concerns on the assignment that opens the movie. In spite of those concerns, he accepts the Escobar assignment following that, and promises his wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey) he's going to leave undercover work after this job. Before the assignment begins, he deals with a prison informant named Dominic (Joe Gilgun), who knows a little something about Escobar's drug operation, and gets released to Mazur's custody during certain portions of the sting. It is Dominic that refers Mazur, working under the alias of Robert Musella, a money launderer for the Mafia.
Unusual events start to worry Mazur, though. First, his partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), comes to the Mazur home unannounced to discuss the operation. Then, once they have their feet inside the cartel, Mazur grows a little uncomfortable indulging in all of the vices of Escobar's men. He invents the story of a fiancee to cover himself. That forces Mazur's supervisor, Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), to assign Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) to pose as that fiancee. Meanwhile, Mazur meets with bankers in Panama, New York, and London, willing to do anything to accommodate any needs Mazur may have. Mazur finds himself tailed at home, and becomes witness to some of the cartel's most ruthless tactics. Bringing his wealthy Aunt Vicky (Olympia Dukakis) to aid with his cover, Mazur gets an introduction to Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), a high-ranking Escobar ally in New York. There, Mazur and Ertz bond with Alcaino and his family in the weeks leading up to the couple's announced wedding day.
The Infiltrator, based on Mazur's book, tells a compelling tale of a man not used to the tactics of the Colombians. Mazur does know his accounting, but his skills get challenged in this operation. At one point, Roberto, speaking on Escobar's behalf, demands Musella find a way to return $10 million already seized by the CIA. However, director Brad Furman plays it safe with the story, bringing tension, but n real sense of danger. The film also doesn't really address any possible concerns with Mazur's health after the movie's start. Mazur uncovers a wound, but that is never discussed after that. The Infiltrator takes a look inside a big sting, but it lacks the thrill of the Oscar-winning Argo, the tale of a covert mission that seems even more improbable than the ruse of a mob-connected accountant. A story angle with Evelyn's jealousy toward Kathy makes no sense at all - and Kathy easily proves the wife has no worries there. The Infiltrator still has satisfying action as Mazur and his associates make the case against the cartel.
Cranston, on the heels of an Oscar-nominated performance as a blacklisted screenwriter in Trumbo, delivers another strong role as the reserved, but determined, Mazur. He doesn't mind getting friendly with criminals, but doing drugs and enjoying lap dances with them makes Mazur uncomfortable. Skilled in accounting, he still knows how to do the math to make Escobar's men happy. Leguizamo, as Emir, does better at rolling with the punches. In one scene, he sits and laughs as a cartel member executes another member for skimming drug profits. Kruger is appealing as Kathy, the fiancee who knows her partner almost as well as Evelyn Mazur does. Dukakis and Ryan added a bit of levity in their small, but noteworthy, supporting roles.
The Infiltrator shows a team of agents setting a trap for one of the most infamous drug operations of its time. The movie, however, seems more like a procedural than a creative sting. It takes a look at the big business behind the drug trade, and shows how many stood complicent, even when they knew they were being asked to do illegal things on the behalf of dangerous criminals. While a lot of Mazur's sting went smoothly, he found his story telling created new wrinkles he and the CIA had to cover. They know, though, that infiltration will have its share of problems.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Infiltrator three stars. Taking a drug cartel into account.