Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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Review: Bryan Cranston dominates in evocative crime drama 'The Infiltrator'

No matter what area code they live in, moviegoers will enjoy The Infiltrator, and another terrific Bryan Cranston performance.

Expectations are higher around Tampa Bay. This is largely our story, with a local hero, filmed here last year and feted in Tampa last week. Exciting stuff.

Overall, The Infiltrator lives up to those provincial expectations. It's a sturdy true crime drama Cranston quietly dominates, in the dual-life vein of Breaking Bad.

The Infiltrator is based on the memoirs of Tampa resident Robert Mazur who, as an undercover agent for U.S. Customs, spent five years inside an international money laundering system leading to Pablo Escobar's Medellin drug cartel. Cranston plays Mazur, a role fitting him like Heisenberg's porkpie hat.

As Mazur, Cranston again deals in duality, this time on the other side of the law. The movie opens with a bowling alley drug bust, a lowlife undercover ruse to contrast Mazur's later persona, high rolling Robert Musella. Then we see Mazur go home, to wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), two kids and another pose, the husband she needn't worry about.

The restless adaptation by Ellen Brown Furman — a rare mother-son movie collaboration — quickly gives Mazur an idea, to follow the money, which will take feds to the drugs. It's a complex process the real Mazur turned into a densely detailed procedural that Furman is obliged to condense or creatively license, with neither achieved smoothly.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Bryan Cranston and Tampa Bay share starring roles in 'The Infiltrator'

Mazur's supervisor (Amy Ryan, underused) assigns him a brash partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), leading to trust issues and odd coupling while finding fake names in a graveyard. Leguizamo's bravado in both personas lends comic relief, and one terrifically contrasted look of horror.

Emir becomes the front man for Mazur's alter ego Musella, a businessman seeking to launder money through international banks. Furman's screenplay boils down the serpentine truth of Mazur's path to Escobar to a few meetings with next-level denizens, three of them introducing undercover cliches in interesting ways.

Benjamin Bratt is suave and sinister as Roberto Alcaino, Escobar's lieutenant with whom Mazur/Musella feigns friendship. Complicating matters is Mazur's faithfulness to his wife, drawing suspicion when he refuses a lap dancer. Improvising, he claims to be engaged, so a fiancee/agent (Diane Kruger) is required. The double-date duplicity of them toward Roberto and his wife (Elena Anaya) make the take-down mean more.

Then there's Yul Vazquez as Javier Ospina, the cocaine-crazed mobster every cartel drama requires, taking the role to heights of louche. Draped in white, dangerously drugged and game for sex with anyone, Vazquez comes closest here to swiping scenes from Cranston.

Brad Furman capably stages the relatively few action scenes; a drive-by shooting complete with car flip, and the climactic sting at a bogus wedding. The Infiltrator derives its tension from Cranston's coiled reactions as Mazur, instantly recognizing, improvising. He brings out the best in his co-stars, doing their best with this script.

So, where does The Infiltrator fit among modern-era movies filmed around Tampa Bay? It isn't blazingly artistic and empty like Spring Breakers, or built purely to crowdplease like Cocoon and Magic Mike. Or dumb like The Punisher. Even if Mazur could be found, tourists wouldn't flock to him like they do Winter the dolphin.

Instead, The Infiltrator is an evocative crime drama, anchored by Cranston's gift for playing internal conflict with wordless expression and that deep, clinched voice. Furman's direction wrestles a screenplay riddled with conformity to other undercover movies. Grown-up entertainment for a silly movie season.

The scenery isn't bad, either.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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