Review of the week
FILM: THE INFILTRATOR
CAST: BRYAN CRANSTON, DIANE KRUGER, JOHN LEGUIZAMO, BENJAMIN BRATT, AMY RYAN
DIRECTOR: BRAD FURMAN
CLASSIFICATION: 16 LV
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN
Bryan Cranston is a superb actor. He made a name in the iconic TV series ‘Breaking Bad’ and was nominated this year for an Oscar for ‘Trumbo’.
Now Cranston gets to show his acting chops again in this riveting slice of cinema which takes viewers on a dangerous journey into the heart of the drug trade in America.
Based on a true story, Cranston portrays Federal agent Robert “Bob” Mazur who goes deep undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s Columbian drug trafficking business that was plaguing the country in 1986. He posed as a slick, money-laundering businessman Bob Musella.
He was teamed with impulsive and streetwise fellow agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and rookie agent posing as his fiancé, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger).
Mazur befriends Escobar’s top lieutenant Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and is soon navigating a vicious criminal network in which the slightest slip-up could cost him his life.
Mazur risks it all building a case that leads to indictments of 85 drug lords and the corrupt bankers who cleaned their dirty money, along with the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, one of the largest money-laundering banks in the world.
It’s an amazing story and a fascinating aspect is observing how an undercover cop can confuse his true identity with that of the “character” he is playing and it requires a steely will to stay on course.
Mazur’s wife, Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey), is not entirely happy about her husband’s present job, because it could spell a death sentence should he be discovered.
Director Brad Furman (‘The Lincoln Lawyer’) has used Mazur’s autobiography as the film’s framework and he does an excellent job. ‘The Infiltrator’ is not an action movie with high speed car chases and gun fights, but a slow-burning exploration of how the “money” was used in the war on drugs. In fact, Mazur never carried a weapon and he used his mastery of persuasion to get into the inner circle. He suggests to his boss, Bonnie Tischler (Amy Ryan), that perhaps the best way to stem the cocaine tide is to stall Pablo Escobar’s money train and that is the reason why he adopts the persona of a money launderer.
His weapons are dollars, not bullets, but that doesn’t lessen the tension. Mazur becomes entwined with people who have no compunctions about murder and there’s never a moment when we aren’t aware of his jeopardy. His bodyguard reminds him that if the truth comes out, the drug dealers will cut off his limbs, give him a shot of adrenaline to keep him conscious, remove his eyelids, and make him watch as they do unspeakable things to his family. Furman keeps a tight rein on the film’s palpable and at times suffocating tension and this is the film’s major asset.
Another is the quality of the ensemble cast. Led by Cranston, the actors do sterling jobs in their respective roles.
John Leguizamo, who often plays weird or quirky characters, gives a straight reading here, while Benjamin Bratt is low-key and sinister. Diane Kruger, though, is underused.
The era, too, is beautifully captured with grainy footage shot in reds and yellows, cheesy synthesizer music and fashions of the time.
A short fall in the narrative’s thrust, though, is that some of the characters appear and then vanish and re-appear again without apparent reason, leaving it somewhat disjointed.
Pacing issues aside, ‘The Infiltrator’ is nevertheless a compelling exercise which focuses more on the psychological impact of Mazur’s situation rather relying on conventional action sequences. Watching how things play out is mesmerizing.
Film: Ben Hur
Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Morgan Freeman
Director: Timu Bekmambetov
Reviewer: Peter Feldman
Let’s immediately cut to the (chariot) chase.
Why would anybody want to remake a true screen epic such as ‘Ben-Hur’, which starred Charlton Heston and Steven Boyd, actors with enormous gravitas?
Unless, of course, it all has to do with financial considerations.
This question is never answered as we wade into this lacklustre Timu Bekmambetov production in which the acting, especially from its two leads, Jack Huston (as Judah Ben-Hur) and Toby Kebbell (as Messala Severus), never attain great heights, and the insipid screenplay fails to draw you into the story.
‘Ben-Hur’ recounts the saga of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur and his adopted brother, Roman orphan Messala Severus. As boys, the two are close, and Messala falls in love with Judah’s blood-sister, Tirzah (Sofia Black-D’Elia).
Messala eventually decides to leave Jerusalem to make his own mark in the world. During his absence, unrest grows and Judah finds himself in an uneasy position caught between Israeli “zealots” and the city’s Roman overlords. When Messala returns at the head of a Roman garrison, friction erupts between the brothers; this turns to outright hostility when a zealot under Judah’s protection attempts to assassinate the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek).
Ben-Hur, bearing responsibility for the attack, is sold into slavery to toil as a rower in the bowels of a Roman ship, where he spends the next five years nursing a grudge and wondering what became of his sister, mother (Ayelet Zurer), and gentle wife, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi).
Bekmambetov’s production is certainly not the sprawling and inspiring epic one would have expected on a subject about adopted brothers, divided by culture and politics, and which unfolds in the shadow of Jesus’ life and death.
The rivalry between Ben-Hur and Messala is competently enough conveyed in the early scenes, but it fails to establish a credible bond of brotherhood, because it occurs in a kind of vacuum. Ben-Hur’s romance with Esther and Messala’s longing for Tirzah are presented in an equally perfunctory manner.
The chariot race, the film’s signature scene, is disappointing and is devoid of the sort of excitement and suspense that was so amply generated by the original.
The intense rivalry between Ben Hur and Massala never comes across strongly enough. Another odd inclusion is that of Jesus, played by an unconvincing and uncharismatic Rodri go Santoro, who pops up occasionally to spout Biblical passages and enact moments from the gospels. In the original we never get to see Jesus, apart from his feet, but in this version he seems to have been unnecessarily shoehorned into the action.
The dialogue spouted by the characters is ridiculous at times. The use of colloquial language hardly fits into a serious Biblical period piece.
The only truly familiar face is that of Morgan Freeman, given an awesome dreadlocked grey wig, who tries bravely to inject some grandeur into the proceedings. His well-known voice is heard reading a rambling monologue and he surfaces as Sheik Ilderim, a wealthy Nubian who trains Ben-Hur to become a charioteer and so take revenge on his brother.
Overall, ‘Ben-Hur’ is far too jumbled a production for comfort, with jarring transitions that only succeed in leaving the viewer totally confused at the end. The addition of 3D versions doesn’t help the cause, either.