The Medellin drug cartel (helmed by notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar) at its pique flooded the U.S. with approximately half a billion dollars worth of cocaine per week in the mid 1980s, under the approving eye of the American government. This was all very clandestine at the time, but in recent years it has become accepted political history rather than mere fodder for conspiracy theorists. Television shows like Netflix’s Narcos and films like last year’s Kill the Messenger have pulled back the curtain on Escobar’s notorious exploits and the subsequent fallout, respectively. The Infiltrator, starring Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), offers a unique glimpse into the American effort to bring down Escobar’s empire.
If you’ve seen The Wire, you will recall that Detective Lester Freamon made a breakthrough in his drug case against Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale after he stopped following the drugs and started following the money. U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Cranston) applies the same logic to bringing down Escobar. After his undercover efforts yield middling results, he switches his strategy, making inroads with perimeter players in Escobar’s network, particularly those who launder the ill-gotten proceeds of his trade. He goes undercover using the alias Bob Musella, operating as money launderer between Escobar’s associates and foreign financial institutions.
Fellow agent Amir Abreu (John Leguizamo, Ice Age: Collision Course) makes the appropriate introductions, and soon “Musella” is in. Their circle includes informants, criminals, and assorted lowlifes, and the stakes for Mazur could not be higher. He could’ve opted for retirement, but instead he dives even deeper into the underworld. A devoted family man, he maintains his integrity at the expense of his operation, while his marriage becomes increasingly strained. Slowly, methodically Mazur works his way up the food chain, with each new player getting him closer and closer to Escobar’s principal launderers. Cranston and director Brad Furman (Runner Runner, The Lincoln Lawyer) perfectly capture the tortuous duality of the undercover agent’s double life and its attendant betrayal.
Cranston does an outstanding job, infusing Mazur with dogged tenacity masking an omnipresent air of frustration and guilt. However, the most subtly revelatory performance might have come from John Leguizamo in his supporting role as the cocksure Abreu. I always appreciate the little non-verbal nuances actors bring to their roles, and Leguizamo did not disappoint. Whether a slight flicker in the eyes or a nearly imperceptible shudder, his performance bubbled with realism. Both he and Cranston shone brightest when their humanity conflicted with the tasks at hand, whether it was complicity in a murder or the need to befriend and then betray. I appreciated the film for its excellent performances and original perspective on a familiar story. The Infiltrator does not disappoint. Grade: A-