By Michael Kaye
The notorious Columbian drug lord and trafficker Pablo Escobar is no stranger to the media. Some of the best examples I can think of are the fictitious film from the TV series Entourage called Medellin, in which Vinnie Chase plays Escobar, and the Netflix original series Narcos, where he is portrayed by Brazilian actor Wagnar Moura. This time we have a film about the people who took down Escobar's operation, based on Robert Mazur's autobiography, The Infiltrator, directed by Brad Furman and starring Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt and Diane Kruger.
Here's the story. A U.S. Customs official uncovers a money laundering scheme involving Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
I really dug this movie. It's been a while since we've had a great crime drama, but this was worth the wait. Here are some of my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
What really elevates this movie is the cast. Bryan Cranston was practically born to play Bob Mazur, who spends the majority of the movie under cover as Bob Musella, and he knocks it out of the park. It's not easy to play a character with multiple layers, and yet Cranston pulls it off, having played similar roles in the past certainly helps. As for John Leguizamo, this is possibly the best performance I've seen from him as Emir Abreu, who assists Mazur in taking down Pablo Escobar. Admittedly, I'm mostly used to him playing the comedic relief, and while he certainly does add levity when necessary, he seems more at home during the dramatic scenes where he's dealing with the lower level criminals. Someone who really surprised me was Diane Kruger as Kathy Ertz, Musella's "fiancée." As it turns out, she actually plays a pivotal role in taking down the drug lords' operation, and how she pulled it off was kind of brilliant.
The story this movie was based on is fascinating. We've seen plenty of undercover cop movies before, but I believe this is the first time that we've seen one about Robert Mazur and how he took down Pablo Escobar. In a way, this movie stands out from the rest of the movies and TV shows about Escobar, as we never actually see him on screen. Instead, you merely feel his presence, most notably the scene where Mazur opens a package he got in the mail of a small bloody coffin.
Another thing that elevates this movie is Brad Furman's direction. He knows how to take a "been there, done that" premise, and breathe a new life into it. There isn't a whole lot of action scenes, but when they hit, they can get pretty intense, almost like a Scorsese film. The production design is spot on as well. This is one of the few films I've seen this year set in the 80's that actually feels like I'm in that time period, which is pretty important if you're aiming for accuracy.
Finally, the music by Chris Hajian was awesome. It's really nothing more than a cherry on top of the sundae, adding one more level of authenticity to the time period, as well as making scenes set in a nightclub that much cooler.
I really just have one complaint, and that's a pair of oddly specific type casting, especially for this year.
The less obvious one is Amy Ryan as Bonni Tischler, the head of U.S. Customs. It's not too far off from her role in Central Intelligence as CIA Agent Pamela Harris.
The more obvious type casting, however, is Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino, a close associate of Pablo Escobar. This is pretty much the same role he had in Ride Along 2 as the crime lord Antonio Pope. I love how both these actors just happened to have worked on films with Kevin Hart this year.
The Infiltrator could be one of those movies that gains a lot of traction on cable and VOD, but you shouldn't wait until then to go see it. It's got a great cast, tight direction, a fascinating story, and an awesome soundtrack. This is the kind of film that makes for great counterprogramming against Ghostbusters, in case you've made up your mind already about what you'd like to see this weekend.
Now I want to hear from you guys. Have you seen The Infiltrator, and if so what did you think? Also, what are your favorite movies and/or TV shows based on Pablo Escobar? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where I finally get to talk about one of the most controversial films of the year, Ghostbusters.