PLOT In the mid-1980s, a federal agent tries to take down a major drug-running and money-laundering network. (Opens Wednesday)
CAST Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt
RATED R (Some strong language and violence)
BOTTOM LINE A solid crime thriller with the always-compelling Cranston at its center.
One of the most memorable details in “The Infiltrator,” Brad Furman’s compelling cops-and-criminals drama about real-life U.S. Customs agent Bob Mazur, is his choice of surveillance equipment. It’s a handsome Renwick briefcase with a little brass eagle below the handle. Give the wings a quarter-turn, and the hulking reel-to-reel hidden inside starts whirring.
Ah, the 1980s — a simpler time, before we all held global surveillance technology in our pockets. Mazur (Bryan Cranston) lugs that briefcase all over the country as he poses as a Mob-connected lawyer doing business with members of Pablo Escobar’s drug ring and the executives at the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which happily launders the money. Before the decade is over, Mazur will collect enough tape to indict more than 100 people. Today, that audio might fit on a thumb drive.
“The Infiltrator” is an enjoyably old-fashioned movie, and not just because its technology is so chunky. It’s built on the classic moviemaking pillars of a solid script (by Furman’s mother, Ellen Brown Furman, and based on Mazur’s memoir), and a top-notch cast that includes Diane Kruger as Mazur’s government-assigned “wife,” Benjamin Bratt as drug kingpin Roberto Alcaino and John Leguizamo as Customs agent Emir Abreu. Although the movie sometimes feels more small-screen than cinematic, “The Infiltrator” adds up to an entertaining thriller set against America’s War on Drugs.
Its main pleasure is Cranston, doing yet another of his great disappearing acts into a character. Though we first see Mazur posing as a coke dealer with a handlebar mustache, he’s more of a workaholic than an action addict. (The rough stuff goes to Leguizamo, who handles those scenes very nicely.) We root for Mazur not because he’s a tough guy but because he believes in his work. We may snicker at those Reagan-era anti-drug spots in the background, but Mazur puts his life at risk for them.
“The Infiltrator” may lack visual flair — it’s certainly no “Goodfellas,” or even “The Departed” — but it works well on its own merits. It’s a no-nonsense crime procedural that suits its hero.