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Movie Night – ‘The Infiltrator’ delivers all from suspense to great acting

By Bradley Griffith

One of the greatest actors of this generation shines in the gritty crime drama “The Infiltrator.”  Bryan Cranston is at his best in this reality-based tale about an agent sent into the underworld of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s ill-gotten empire.

The year is 1986 and Pablo Escobar runs the largest drug cartel in the world from Medellin, Columbia.  The bulk of his “exports” wind up in the United States.  America has the demand and Escobar has the supply.  Many tons of illegal drugs are entering the country every day, mostly through Florida.  Escobar’s business is booming.

Robert Mazur (Cranston) is an agent for U.S. Customs.  He’s a veteran undercover operative. He is tasked with the undesirable job of infiltrating Escobar’s organization.  Rather than getting involved in the manufacturing, distribution, or smuggling of drugs, Mazur presents himself as a businessman.  He appears to be someone who can successfully launder all of Escobar’s money so that it comes out on the other end of the process clean as a whistle and free to spend.

No one could infiltrate Escobar’s organization alone, and Mazur is no exception.  Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) is already undercover and known to many of Escobar’s associates in Florida.  Emir makes the introduction that gets Mazur an interview with the cartel.  Everything is going great until Mazur is backed into a corner and blurts out that he has a fiancé.

Actually, Mazur is married and has two kids.  But the cartel can’t know that.  Instead, U.S. Customs agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) steps in to play his fiancé.  Together they begin to penetrate the largest drug cartel in the world.  They become close personal friends with Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife.  Alcaino is in charge of distribution of the drugs once they arrive in America.  The question is whether Mazur and Ertz are too close to the Alcainos and whether they like their lifestyle as high-flying bankers a little too much.

“The Infiltrator” is mostly dark and foreboding.   It doesn’t pull any punches.  It’s depicting the real war on drugs in the 1980s and it is raw and brutal at times.  The movie is based on the book written by the real Robert Mazur.  It’s unclear how much of the movie is true, but it’s one heck of a good story.  There is a twist or two and a few surprises that will keep you guessing.  It’s impossible to guess what will happen next.

Bryan Cranston is in top form as Robert Mazur.  He transforms himself from a family man to slick businessman dealing with powerful and violent criminals in a heartbeat.  He is imminently believable both to Escobar’s cartel and to the moviegoer.  He seamlessly transitions between his cover and his real life as a suburban family man.  Fans of Cranston’s work in “Breaking Bad” will love “The Infiltrator.”

While he plays a much smaller role than Cranston, Benjamin Bratt is also fantastic as Alcaino, a soft-spoken man with violent tendencies.  Despite the fact that Alcaino many times seems to be a volcano waiting to erupt, he trusts easily and brings Mazur and Ertz to his home and introduces them to his family.  This only makes the deception worse.  He is equally crushed and incensed when he learns the truth, and Bratt is excellent in this role.

The plight of the undercover agent is on full display in the movie.  Working undercover and being away from home takes a toll on Mazur and his family.  The stress on Mazur and Ertz as they try to avoid any misstep that could cost them their lives is almost unbearable.  Seeing their friends in the cartel arrested clearly has them conflicted.  The movie strives to accurately illuminate the terror and stress found in undercover assignments.

“The Infiltrator” is intense and suspenseful with surprises to keep you on the edge of your seat.  It has a great story and great acting.  It’s everything a great drama should be.

Grade: A

Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content, and drug material.