Cranston plays crafty undercover agent

Cranston plays crafty undercover agent
John Leguizamo (left) and Bryan Cranston (center) in the “The Infiltrator.”

“The Infiltrator”

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, drug use and some sexuality

In English and Spanish with subtitles

Running time: 127 minutes

Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

Pablo Escobar (1949-1993) was an infamous mobster who ran Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel with an iron fist. During his reign, Escobar controlled about 80 percent of the global cocaine market, and raked in about $70 million / day.

To maintain his power, the ruthless kingpin had his henchmen assassinate thousands of adversaries, including policemen, politicians, witnesses, judges and journalists. So, the idea of infiltrating the ranks of such a vicious operation at its height in the Eighties was certainly a very serious undertaking.

But the risks didn’t deter ambitious U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), despite the fact that he had a wife (Juliet Aubrey) and a couple of kids (Lara Decaro and Niall Hayes) to worry about. After assuring his spouse, that this would be his last assignment before retirement, he adopted the alias Bob Musella pretending to be a shady Tampa businessman willing to turn crooks’ ill-gotten gains into Florida real estate.

He executed this daring sting with the assistance of two agents. One was Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a novice asked to pose as his fiancee on her first undercover case. The other was Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), his grudgingly-accepted new partner with less polish than street smarts.

It’s not long before the intrepid trio is swept into a seedy underworld where they have a close brush with death seemingly at every turn. However, by proving themselves capable and trustworthy money launderers, they gradually work their way up the Medellin cartel food chain to the point where they gain the confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s Miami-based right-hand man.

Next thing you know, Bob and Kathy find themselves befriended by Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife, Gloria (Elena Anaya). They are regularly invited over for dinner to the flamboyant Alcainos’ sprawling mansion with a view, though the host also intermittently delivers subtle reminders of the gruesome fate which awaits snitches and traitors.

Thus unfolds “The Infiltrator,” a riveting, cat-and-mouse thriller directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer). Adapted by Furman’s mom Ellen from Mazur’s memoir of the same name, the film stars Bryan Cranston in a role custom-made for the gifted thespian. For, he manages to ratchet up the tension by imbuing his conflicted character with a convincing combination of arrogance and existential dread.

Expect sweaty palms as the pressure mounts, since your apprehension skyrockets when watching monsters who’d murder at the drop of a hat.

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