Drug on the market

That moustache, though.

That moustache, though.

Rated 3.0

The Infiltrator is a well-acted movie, and director Brad Furman bathes it in a gritty sense of time (the 1980s) and place (South Florida and New York). But there’s a nagging familiarity to it, a feeling that we’ve seen this movie before. It’s like a mashup of Donnie Brasco and The Departed dolled up with a sun-drenched coating of Miami Vice. It looks and feels so much like other movies that it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that the story it tells is largely true.

Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur, veteran special agent with U.S. Customs and author of the book on which the movie is based. For five years, Mazur worked undercover as Bob Musella, worming his way into the confidence of Colombia’s Medellín drug cartel and the highly placed bankers who laundered their money. The investigation of which Mazur was a part eventually brought down the massive Bank of Credit and Commerce International in 1991.

Ellen Brown Furman’s script hints at, but doesn’t dwell on, the scale of the operation. In fact, over 250 Customs and DEA agents were involved, but the chief ones the movie focuses on are Mazur; his streetwise partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo); Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), who posed as “Musella’s” fiancée (Mazur was actually happily married with two kids); and the leader of Mazur’s team, special agent Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan, whose performance is somewhat undercut by the fact that she plays essentially the same part in the comedy Central Intelligence, released just last month).

The script doesn’t even hint at the five years the investigation lasted. The movie is vague about the passage of time, but the sense we get is that it takes place over mere months; Mazur’s wife (Juliet Aubrey) doesn’t mention how long she’s been waiting for this nerve-wracking caper to be over, and his children (Niall Hayes, Lara Decaro) appear to be the same age at the end as they are at the beginning.

In fact, writer Furman’s script (director Furman is her son) has a slapdash feel to it, and it often seems to be stepping gingerly from one cliché to the next, with the occasional irrelevancy tossed in for dramatic effect. One real-life DEA informant, Barry Seal (Michael Paré) is brought on as a sort of special guest murder victim, even though the cartels assassinated him before Mazur’s operation was really under way, and the two men appear never to have met; anyhow, it’s certain Mazur wasn’t sitting beside Seal when the drive-by blew his brains out. And did Mazur really form an emotional bond with trafficker Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt)—or is that just something the Furmans imported from Donnie Brasco?

We can’t be sure, and it undermines the movie’s surface of authenticity. Interesting story, but been here, seen this.