[Screen It]


(2016) (Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: A federal narcotics agent risks everything as he goes undercover, posing as a money launderer, and tries to follow the drug money trail all of the way to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
It's the 1980s and Bob Mazur (BRYAN CRANSTON) is a narcotics agent assigned to battle the trafficking of cocaine from Colombia into the U.S. Married to Evelyn (JULIET AUBREY) and with two kids, the former accountant turned fed is good at working undercover alongside the likes of fellow agent Emir Abreu (JOHN LEGUIZAMO). Realizing they're getting nowhere trying to stop the influx of such drugs, Bob proposes to his boss, Bonni Tischler (AMY RYAN), that they instead follow the related money and that could lead them up the chain of command, maybe even to the drug kingpin himself, Pablo Escobar.

Getting low-level criminal Dominic (JOSEPH GILGUN) out of prison in exchange for necessary introductions at the bottom of the rung, Bob takes on the identity of money launder Robert Musella and initially finds himself in the company of the father-son drug men duo of Gonzalo Mora Sr. (SIMON ANDREU) and Gonzalo Mora Jr. (RUBEN OCHANDIANO). While with them and given a stripper as a present, Bob doesn't partake as he says he's engaged, later forcing Bonni to assign federal agent Kathy Ertz (DIANE KRUGER) to play his fiancée.

With this being her first undercover role, Bob knows full well the increasing dangers they'll face and that any slip-up in their ruse could be fatal. With that in mind, they continue their ascension through the drug empire ranks, meeting the likes of unstable money launderer Javier Ospina (YUL VASQUEZ) and finally Escobar's right-hand man, Roberto Alcaino (BENJAMIN BRATT). Bob and Kathy end up friendly with him and his wife, Gloria (ELENA ANAYA), all to the point that they develop some empathy for and camaraderie with the two. With a fake wedding coming up, Bob and Kathy find themselves somewhat conflicted as a huge drug bust looms on the horizon.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
There are lots of jobs that I'm sure others love doing, but I'd never want to engage in and certainly never even considered as a career path back in my younger days. Proctologist, trash man, bullfighter and dangerous animal removal specialist are among some of them.

In line with the latter, I don't the guts to have ever been a cop or federal agent assigned to risky places or missions, what with dealing with the capture of dangerous human beings. And probably the worst in my mind are those who go deep undercover to infiltrate the bad guys, gain their trust, and eventually set the trap to snare them.

I realize some choose that path because it's the right thing to do. And I suppose there might be some adrenaline junkies out there in that profession for the thrill of the risk. Yours truly? Nope. Nada. Ain't gonna do it.

In a somewhat related way, such men and women are akin to actors and actresses as they must so convincingly transform into another character or person that those in their audience are completely fooled and unwittingly go along for the ride.

Of course, if you're an actor and mess up, you might get heckled, laughed off the stage, receive poor reviews or, God forbid, a Razzie award for worst acting performance. Goof up while undercover and you'll likely receive a beating and quite possibly a bullet to the head.

Such is the inherent danger in the job and that's part of what fuels "The Infiltrator." It's a decent if familiar dramatic thriller based on the real-life exploits of undercover narcotics agent Robert "Bob" Mazur who infiltrated large parts of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's empire in the 1980s, posing as a money launderer.

The theory was rather than try to stop the cocaine from entering the U.S. -- which would be akin to killing a few cockroaches knowing full well there are hordes of them behind the wall, ready to enter and take the place of their dearly departed -- a smarter tactic would be to follow the money trail up through the organization to get to the top.

Mazur (played by Bryan Cranston doing a one-eighty from his "Breaking Bad" character, and delivering a solid performance) then goes undercover -- much to the worry and chagrin of his wife (Juliet Aubrey) and makes his way through a procession of drug biz figures until he gets to Escobar's right-hand man (Benjamin Bratt doing the refined, high-living criminal thing, albeit in a convincing fashion).

Of course, he needs some help getting there, starting with his unofficial partner (John Leguizamo who could do this sort of role in his sleep) and then a fake fiancée (Diane Kruger, easily up to the task and then some) in order to get up close and personal with his new friend and that man's wife (Elena Anaya).

I have no idea how closely screenwriter Ellen Brown Furman and director Brad Furman (her son) adhere to the facts (the script is based on Mazur's book). But if there's one moderate complaint it's that they don't do anything unique enough with the material or characters to differentiate all of that from the same we've seen in other previous movies.

Agent goes undercover and that puts a strain on his marriage, with scenes of that and his family life interspersed with the main drama. Check. The smooth villain drops hints that bad things could happen, but done in a way that could just be regular talk. You got it. Bad things happen to others. Yessir. Shady characters follow the protagonist or cast suspicious eyes on him. Affirmative. Agent gets too close to the target and finds himself conflicted about pulling the trigger, so to speak. Yep.

It's almost as if the checklist from the deep undercover drama playbook has been noted, carefully arranged and checked off. That doesn't make it a bad film, and it's certainly easy enough to sit through (if you don't mind the graphic material). I just wish something had been done to make it feel like it's own film (much like "Sicario" did last year with material that was also familiar and similar to previous entries in its genre).

In short, it's a solid effort (especially from Cranston, Kruger, and Bratt), but it's missing the electricity and spark that a Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson would have injected into the material to make it a giddy, fully engaging viewing experience. "The Infiltrator" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 11, 2016 / Posted July 13, 2016

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