Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur has done incredible things. Not only is he an amazing father and a dutiful husband, he spent years undercover infiltrating the hierarchy of the Medellin Cartel. He busted the largest money laundering operation. Based on Mazur’s book, The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, director Brad Furman’s THE INFILTRATOR chronicles Mazur’s (Bryan Cranston) delicate balance between his two strikingly different identities, finding time to celebrate family as his true self and running with Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), posing as mobster Bob Musella.
At the film’s recent press day in Los Angeles, we discussed a few of the film’s striking elements with Cranston, Bratt, co-writer/ director Brad Furman and his mom, who he co-wrote the feature with, Ellen Brown Furman.
Authenticity was key
Since this is based on Mazur’s true story, Furman and his screenwriter mother sought to capture the authenticity of Mazur’s story as chronicled in his book. They never felt boxed in by the historical details in order to tell their riveting narrative. Ellen Brown Furman said, “The experience of writing was to research everything. Bob was so accessible and I talked to the other parties I needed to. Then, my process is to get inside myself for many weeks and in my head I would write and get to know these characters so that they would be real to me. Then I’m able to put them on a page and make them real for the audience. Of course it’s an adaptation so I have to be real to the truth of what the story is and, in every conceivable way, I tried to do that.” Brad Furman followed up, “The characters are real, but the characters a fictional. You have to fictionalize these characters, but base them in reality. Constantly I was emailing Bob. ‘So here’s the circumstance,’ and then we’d work it through until we got it right. At the end of the day, it always came back to Bob. We felt a massive debt of gratitude that we were given this opportunity. We wanted to honor Bob – the achievement of what he’d done.” Cranston gave a good analogy, stating, “Anytime you take one thing from another medium, you have to put it through a juicer. It takes a big bag of oranges to get the juice. The movie is like the juice. You take the best elements of that.”
Benjamin Bratt had been reluctant to take the role
Though Bratt had originally been reluctant to take on the role as the leader of a cartel, it was the way Furman nailed the character’s humanity. “The thing that convinced me to ultimately take the role on was he was very interested in showing an aspect of the human-ness of a person like this. Although he sees his business as a matter of supply and demand, his actions have consequences.” In order to get himself entrenched in the role, Bratt credits Mazur’s book as his guide. “You start with the book. It’s a kind of Bible of thrilling factual information of what really went down. He’s a fantastic raconteur. When you get down to how deeply undercover he went to pull off this operation, it’s nothing less than thrilling. It’s so cinematic in nature.” He also listened Mazur’s original surveillance recordings. “The real ace in the hole were the actual secret recordings he provided to me of meetings he had with Alcaino. I didn’t have access to any of the photographs or images of what this man looked like at the time, I got a clear picture of how I wanted to play him from listening to his voice – to the gregariousness of his nature, to the inherent charm of he communicated about anything.”
Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” was the first song that inspired the soundtrack’s throughline
THE INFILTRATOR has a fantastic soundtrack – one that must’ve cost a fortune securing the music rights to. Not only does it provide the film with an energy akin to a Martin Scorsese picture, it helps send us back to the time period. Brad Furman elucidated, “Everything I create, I listen and choose the music. This was a really, really odd process for me because it was my first movie it took me awhile to figure out the foundation. For example, LINCOLN LAWYER, I had sixty tracks picked out before we ever went into production. I had given them two CD’s to McConaughey. In this instance, it was the complete opposite. I found my way in later. I think those creative juices manifested in post, which is why I’m so proud of the soundtrack. How we came about it was much more challenging for me. When something’s an arduous climb, you appreciate it more. Rush’s ‘Tom Saywer’ was the embodiment of me as a child of the 80’s. When we got the opportunity to open the movie with that, it was everything for me. It set the foundation.”
Bryan Cranston plays a guy playing another guy
The actor concedes that there were more dire consequences for Mazur if he was made “acting.” He said, “The element I really wanted to bring out is Bob Mazur: the man, the husband, the father. That’s what fascinated me. As an actor slipping into a character playing a character, I’ve been doing it for almost 40 years. For him, if he makes a mistake, there aren’t any do-overs. He could be killed. With that kind of tension coming home every night, how does that guy become the Dad?! I needed this film to show the emotional stakes of this guy at home – the emotional stakes. Brad and Ellen agreed.” Cranston also credits the recordings to augmenting his performance. “[It was] fascinating. They aren’t always the best quality, so your leaning over to hear them. They are shrouded in a suitcase, or a planter. What I noticed was the depth of informality that Roberto Alcaino and Bob Mazur had, ribbing each other. Bob never lost it in his mind. The theatrical license is to allow Bob to relax a little bit of his doggedness as a law enforcement officer and expose more of the fragility of a human being – of that dichotomous life.”
THE INFILTRATOR opens on July 13. Check out our review here.