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Rated 3 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Bryan Cranston Saves Undercover Cop Film
by Frank Wilkins

Within the sprawling pantheon of undercover cop films, The Infiltrator will never be recognized as one of the genre greats. Within actor Bryan Cranstonís body of work however, it will be remembered as the one he saved. Heís that good here.

Cranston plays real-life undercover Customs agent Robert Mazur, who spent five years back in the Ď80s infiltrating drug lord Pablo Escobarís Medellin drug cartel as Bob Musella -- a name he and partner Emir Ebreu (John Leguizamo) gleaned from a cemetery tombstone. After he and Customs agency cohorts -- led by Bonnie Tischler (an underutilized Amy Ryan) -- created a fake money laundering scheme they called Operation C-Chase, Mazur found himself scaling the invisible cartel ladder, right up to its loftiest rungs.

Director Brad Furman, working from a script by Ellen Sue Brown who, in turn, adapts from Mazurís memoir about the gripping real-life scheme, never quite injects the necessary flair and passion to bring interest to some of the plotís more intricate details. Itís an extremely delicate story with numerous intertwined threads and complex details dealing with banking, money laundering, and the inner-workings of the criminal underworld. Itís certainly not as frustratingly disorienting as 2011ís Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but neither is it simple Netflix-and-chill material. Despite the requisite explanatory dialogue, there are points in the film that never rise above a plodding bore. But when things are working -- and when Cranston is shrouding his boiling pressure valve behind that trademarked nervous squint -- the audience is a complete nervous wreck.

Though a bit too old for the real character who was in his 30s when he took the case, Cranstonís Mazur comes across as smart enough to be a viable partner to the cartel, but not so much to be realized as a threat. Of course, we recognize the tremendous craftiness needed to mold such a morally perverse character who masterfully swaps back-and-forth between his two lives, while often narrowly avoiding slip-ups and inadvertent revelations that would most assuredly mean his death.

During one particularly nerve-racking scene, Musella invents a fictional fiancee to get himself out of a bind. Problem is, boss Tischler is now forced to supply one in the person of Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger). Unfortunately, sheís  never been undercover.  Adding to the tension, rather than just sit and smile under the radar as the eye-candy wife, Kathy takes the talkative extrovert route and puts the audience on edge every time she opens her mouth in front of the bad guys. A risky maneuver on her part for sure, but one that certainly ups the confidence factor. Kruger pulls it off convincingly.

This is where The Infiltrator works best, as a jittery demonstration of the extreme pressures and burdens placed on Mazur, his tolerant wife, Evelyn (Juliey Aubrey), their two children, and everyone involved in the case. One particularly intense scene involves what was meant to be a lovely, private wedding anniversary dinner with wife Evelyn that turns into a nightmarish scenario when Mazurís underworld partners inadvertently happen upon the dining love birds. Of course, we already know about Cranstonís ability to pull off the complex moral duality needed for the role of a guy who plays both sides of the fence, but his Mazur one-ups Walter White in both the complexity of skills needed to pull off the character as well as the enormity of the stakes involved. Becoming the object of Gus Fringís wrath is one thing, pissing off Pablo Escobar is an entirely different matter.

The Infiltrator isnít packed with mile-a-minute action and loads of shoot-Ďem-up scenes. In fact, other than a drive-by-shooting, a couple of car chases, and a brazen climactic sting posing as an elaborate wedding, it just isnít that kind of film. But if stone-cold, white-knuckled undercover cop work and smartly-staged set-ups are your thing, The Infiltrator will certainly prove that brains are often more deadly than brawn.

(Released by Broad Green Films and rated ďRĒ for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material.)

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