The man without a face7/20/2016
In 1985, U.S. Customs agent Bob Mazur went undercover in Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, posing as a money-laundering savant named Bob Musella. During the next five years, Mazur and his fellow agents, Emir Ebreu and Kathy Ertz, documented hundreds of millions of dollars worth of illegal wire transfers and fraudulent transactions and recorded hundreds of hours of video and audio surveillance that ultimately brought down the seventh largest bank in the world and resulted in the arrest and conviction of more than 100 bankers, businessmen and drug traffickers. Codenamed “Operation C-Chase,” it was the largest single bust in the history of the U.S. Customs Department.
For the film adaptation of those events, Bryan Cranston has been tapped to play the role of Mazur/Musella, with John Leguizamo playing the streetwise, headstrong Agent Ebreu, and Diane Kruger filling in as Ertz. All three actors are phenomenal in their roles — Cranston has evolved into one of the big screen’s most reliable talents, and Leguizamo has resurrected his career of late, but director Brad Furman is obviously expecting the thrilling story to do most of the heavy lifting for the film.
To that end, “The Infiltrator” is a slow burn — slower than last year’s “Sicario,” which provided a master class on how to build tension on a simmer. And while it more or less works in “The Infiltrator,” it never seems to click fully home because the film never seems to buy into its own stakes. As an undercover operation, Musella, Ebreu and Ertz could have found themselves murdered for the slightest slip-up.
Ertz in particular, as a rookie agent thrust into the operation as a last-second addition after Musella fabricated a fiancée for himself, finds herself in the exceedingly delicate position of having to charm kingpin Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife. Hired as an investigator rather than an undercover agent, C-Chase would prove to be Ertz’s only undercover assignment in her career, and the stress of the unfamiliar situation nearly breaks her. In this role, Kruger is magnificent, and it is her quiet, reactionary scenes with Cranston when the film comes closest to driving home the impact of this work on the agents themselves.
But those moments do not come as often as they probably should, leaving much of “The Infiltrator” to lag. The film never gets to the point where it actually feels boring, but by the time the epilogue is running across the screen, you are acutely aware that you have been in your chair for more than two hours.
The film is based upon true events, many of which have been drawn directly from Mazur’s own memoir, from which “The Infiltrator” draws its name. And while the film should be praised for sticking as close to the factual record as any film from Hollywood could reasonably be expected to, that does not stop parts of the film from feeling too familiar. The story plays out like just about any other “undercover in the mob” story you have seen or read before, with only the outstanding performances saving it from feeling like a knock-off.
If you are a fan of great acting, “The Infiltrator” is probably the best option that you will find in the theaters until November. You will have to suffer through the pacing in some spots, but the experience is ultimately worthwhile. CV
Starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt