The Infiltrator

For F*** Magazine

THE INFILTRATOR 

Director : Brad Furman
Cast : Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Juliet Aubrey, Yul Vasquez, Amy Ryan, Said Taghmaoui, Jason Isaacs
Genre : Crime/Drama
Run Time : 2 hrs 7 mins
Opens : 25 August 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene and Coarse Language)

The Infiltrator posterIn Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston played a ‘cook’. In this biopic, he’s mixed up with treacherous drug cartels yet again, but this time, he’s a ‘washer’. Cranston portrays Robert Mazur, a U.S. Customs agent who takes on the alias “Bob Musella” to go undercover as a money launderer. Through the connections of fellow undercover agent Emir Abreu (Leguizamo), Bob is able to infiltrate the power Medellin Cartel, run by Pablo Escobar. Bob is paired with rookie agent Kathy Ertz (Kruger), who poses as his fiancée. They ingratiate themselves with high-ranking Medellin trafficker Roberto Alcaino (Bratt) and Alcaino’s wife Gloria (Elena Anaya), winning the couple’s trust. The high-risk nature of the job puts a strain on the relationship between Bob and his actual wife Evelyn (Aubrey), additionally threatening the safety of their two young children. Bob puts everything on the line as he journeys deeper down the rabbit hole, immersing himself in a world of violence and deception.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo

The real-life Robert Mazur served as a consultant on Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, and after Mann told Mazur that his own story had enormous potential as a movie, Mazur sat down to pen an autobiography. The double lives that undercover operatives lead have always been compelling to audiences. The Infiltrator is a tale of a decent man who went swimming with sharks for a living, with the danger of the prop dorsal fin coming unstuck from his back an ever-present possibility. There are moments of nail-biting tension and shocking brutality is employed with utmost effectiveness. However, director Brad Furman’s stylistic flourishes, including a marked overuse of colour filters, undermine the story’s authenticity instead of enhancing it. The screenplay by Furman’s mother Ellen Brown does hew to certain crime movie conventions, but there is a palpable sensitivity to the character interactions lying beneath the blood-soaked luridness.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston

The film rests squarely on Cranston’s shoulders, and there’s never any doubt that he can carry it all the way. He’s an actor who is immensely capable of eliciting sympathy, but can also summon an intimidating toughness that Breaking Bad fans are all too familiar with. Bob comes face-to-face with the searing ugliness at the heart of the drug trade on multiple occasions, and the way Cranston conveys Bob’s struggle to maintain his composure is harrowing. The realisation that he will have to betray people who, however ruthless, have trusted and shown kindness to him, eats away at Bob. The combination of Cranston’s performance and the circumstances in the plot mean that Bob is never just a boring hero despite his innate nobility.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo and bridesmaids

The relationship between Bob and his pretend fiancée, juxtaposed against that between Bob and his real wife, result in some moments that are overwrought and others that are quite moving. Aubrey’s Evelyn never comes off as unreasonable, and a scene in which Bob takes Evelyn out for an anniversary dinner but is recognized by a client is one of the film’s highlights. The mutual respect that forms between Bob and Kruger’s Kathy is heartfelt, and when they’re both in the trenches, they’re the only ones the other can truly seek solace in. The possibility that Bob will succumb to temptation lingers over this relationship, but it’s never played up to a manipulative extent.

The Infiltrator Benjamin Bratt and Bryan Cranston

There are too many characters to keep track of, and it’s sometimes challenging to remember who does what for whom. Bratt brings considerable charm to the role of Alcaino, nicknamed “The Jeweller”. It’s made abundantly clear that he’s a dangerous man, but when Alcaino and his wife invite Bob and Kathy to their house and treat them with such hospitality, one can’t help but dread the inevitable betrayal. Leguizamo plays the comic relief as he often does, but the wily Abreu still has an edge to him despite his jocular nature. Olympia Dukakis is a hoot when she briefly shows up as Bob’s larger-than-life Aunt Vicky, but Amy Ryan’s turn as Bob’s no-nonsense U.S. Customs boss Bonni Tischler borders on caricature.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston and cartel members

The History vs. Hollywood website has become an invaluable resource in evaluating the accuracy of movies touted as being based on true stories. A cursory look through their write-up on The Infiltrator reveals that the most explosive, intense parts of the movie, including moments when someone right next to Bob gets killed, didn’t actually occur. Nevertheless, the real-life Mazur is pleased with Cranston’s portrayal of him, and he continues to work to fight money laundering. The Infiltrator reinforces the stereotype of cartels as being as colourful as they are deadly and doesn’t provide much insight into their inner workings, but its protagonist’s perspective gives the story emotional heft.

Summary: Bryan Cranston is electrifying as he dives into Robert Mazur’s double life, but the echoes of other films and TV shows diminishes the impact of the true story.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Central Intelligence

For F*** Magazine

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Director : Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Danielle Nicolet, Thomas Kretschmann
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 54 mins
Opens : 16 June 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References and Coarse Language)

Over the past few years, Kevin Hart has become the universal adapter plug of the buddy comedy subgenre, having been paired with the likes of Will Ferrell, Josh Gad and Ice Cube amongst others. This time, Hart is teamed with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But is just their disparity in physical stature enough to elicit the laughs?
Hart plays Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner, who in high school, was a popular and highly successful student. Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson) was an overweight social outcast who was relentlessly bullied, and Calvin was the only one who would show him any kindness. 20 years later, Robbie has undergone a complete physical transformation and reinvented himself as “Bob Stone”. Calvin is married to his high school sweetheart Maggie (Nicolet), but is unfulfilled in his accounting career. Robbie and Calvin reunite, but Calvin is informed by CIA agent Pamela Harris (Ryan) that Robbie is in fact a dangerous rogue agency operative wanted for the murder of his former partner. Robbie tries to convince Calvin of his innocence as the two go on the run, trying to stop classified intel from falling into the hands of a mysterious underworld player known as “the Black Badger”.
The thinking behind Central Intelligence seems to have been “just let the two leads loose, that should be plenty to carry a movie.” Much of the would-be comedy is painfully unfunny, and the action is generic and unimpressive. This is far from the first comedy in which a regular Joe is flung into the mix of high-stakes international intrigue, and the plot is painfully perfunctory and the final reveal is a predictable one. There’s an anti-bullying message here, that if you’re picked on by the jocks in high school, all you need to do is transform yourself into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to get back at them. That should be pretty easy for anyone to do. The prologue features Johnson’s face digitally pasted onto Sione Kelepi who portrays the young Robbie; this effect is nestled deep in the uncanny valley and is terrifying rather than funny.
To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t go down the “one’s silly and the other’s stoic” route typical of buddy cop flicks. While Hart does eventually go into shrill, flailing mode, the character is likeable because of the kindness he shows towards the underdog. Johnson does have fun with the Robbie character, who may be all 6’ 5” of hulking muscle, but is the same awkward, socially mal-adjusted kid deep down. The thing is, Johnson is too slick and polished to come across as convincingly dorky. Nicolet’s Maggie is just “the wife” – the plot seems to hint at how marrying one’s high school sweetheart may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Ryan is certainly far above the material, and phones it in as the comically serious dogged agent hunting down the suspect. Bateman is pretty much wasted as a stock slimy, snivelling banker type, and Paul’s appearance amounts to little more than an extended cameo. Look out for a prominent comedienne in the film’s climax.
Central Intelligence has the same problem that most Kevin Hart vehicles have: the producers bank too much on the comedian’s appeal to audiences and everything around him seems to be on autopilot. It’s a wasted opportunity, especially since Hart is paired with a bona fide action hero like Johnson. Instead of a production line comedy with bits of action sprinkled about half-heartedly, it would have been fun to see the duo tear into the conventions of buddy cop and spy movies in a full-tilt action extravaganza fuelled by belly laughs. The film trucks out the hoary dictum of “being yourself” – we’ll bet it’s easy to “be yourself” when you’re Dwayne Johnson. The scenes in which Robbie is wracked with anxiety brought about by the trauma he endured in school did resonate a little with this reviewer, but it never seems sincere enough to be a truly effective message. Sure, it’s sporadically amusing just by dint of putting Hart and Johnson together, but it’s clear that Central Intelligence isn’t aiming for any particular heights and is merely coasting along.
Summary: Sure, the leading men have chemistry, but unremarkable action sequences and jokes that are more cringe-inducing than genuinely funny ensure this won’t be front and centre in most moviegoers’ memories after they leave the theatre.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Bridge of Spies

For F*** Magazine

BRIDGE OF SPIES

Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, Sebastian Koch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 142 mins
Opens : 15 October 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
We’ve had our late-summer fun with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but with fall awards movie season upon us, it’s time to revisit the Cold War in a far more serious manner. It is 1957 and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is captured by the FBI in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bar Association elects for insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks) to serve as Abel’s counsel. Three years later, after U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Soviets, Donovan is tasked with negotiating his release. The deal is an exchange of Abel for Powers. Naturally, things aren’t that clear-cut, and the East Germans have American student Frederic Pryor (Rogers) in custody. With the odds stacked high against him, Donovan flies to East Berlin to bargain for the safe return of both Americans as the threat of nuclear war between the two superpowers looms ever greater. 
Bridge of Spies is based on the 1960 U-2 incident, an actual event, with a screenplay by Matt Charman and rewritten by Joel and Ethan Coen. The title refers to Glienicke Bridge, which was the site for several prisoner exchanges between the Americans and Soviets. The film has been described as a “Cold War thriller”, but it’s more of a courtroom drama and not an action-driven spies vs. spies affair. Director Spielberg’s follow-up to 2012’s Lincoln is another sombre awards contender, but this is more accessible to the average filmgoer, less dense and scholarly. Bridge of Spies is an old-fashioned drama, with the bleakness of a rubble-strewn East Germany evoking the gloomy vision of Vienna as seen in the classic spy film The Third Man. There is a stillness about the film, which is very much a slow burn. Spielberg’s films are seen by many as varying degrees of schmaltzy. While Bridge of Spies certainly has its emotionally impactful moments, it is largely restrained and the feeling of frigid detachedness effectively captures the atmosphere of the Cold War.
If the film that surrounds him is cold, Hanks is Bridge of Spies’ warm, beating heart. In this, his fourth collaboration with Spielberg, Hanks is called upon to embody the archetype of a decent man in an indecent time. If there’s anything Hanks can play, it’s “decent” – he does that and so much more here. James Donovan is a consummate professional who is flung into unfamiliar territory but who always stands his ground, his attentiveness and upstanding nature recalling To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. It turns out that Gregory Peck almost played Donovan in 1965, with Alec Guinness set to play Abel opposite him, but the film was ultimately called off as the era was too fraught with political tension for it to be made. When Donovan arrives in East Germany, construction has just begun on the Berlin Wall, and the angle of a relatively ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances is the audience’s way in. As Donovan is accosted by gang members, catches a cold and has to deal with Soviet and East German officials, he remains admirably steadfast, clinging to his principles, the ideal unassuming hero. 
Rylance, a veteran of the London stage, is coolly compelling as Rudolf Abel. Abel is a Russian spy, ostensibly the bad guy, but the film doesn’t demonise him, taking the stance that the Soviets had their spies and the Americans had theirs. Rylance’s Abel is unflappable and inscrutable, and the unlikely bond that Abel forms with Donovan makes for a fascinating and subtly moving dynamic. While audiences are very familiar with Hanks, Rylance isn’t as recognisable a name, and perhaps that unfamiliarity adds to Abel’s mystique. Spielberg apparently enjoyed working with the actor and Rylance will play the title character in Spielberg’s next film, The B.F.G. Defending Abel makes Donovan a very unpopular man indeed, and this takes its toll on his family, especially his wife Mary (Ryan). The scenes involving Donovan’s family and Pryor’s arrest at the border are the closest Spielberg comes to indulging his more sentimental sensibilities, but these moments are necessary to establish the personal stakes involved. 
Spielberg’s usual cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn bring the technical polish that we’ve come to expect from his films, but one key collaborator is missing: composer John Williams. Owing to a minor health issue which has now been resolved, Williams was replaced by Thomas Newman. Newman’s score is appropriately dignified, containing his own trademark instrumentation while not sounding a million miles away from what Williams might have written. 
Spielberg has always been an idealist, and along with lead actor Hanks, he brings a reassuring, old-fashioned moral certainty to this tale set in one of the murkiest eras in modern history. Even so, Bridge of Spies avoids being naïve and manipulative in its account of the U-2 incident negotiation process. Perhaps this reviewer just isn’t that much of an intellectual, but the one action sequence in which Powers’ U-2 spy plane is shot out of the sky did make him hanker for another Spielberg-directed straight-up action adventure. Of course, that’s not the kind of film Bridge of Spies is, and it lives up to the pedigree before and behind the camera, succeeding at being a sturdy, well-made historical drama. 
Summary: As prestigious as prestige pictures get, Bridge of Spies is a restrained, quiet drama anchored by Tom Hanks’ reassuring presence, with thespian Mark Rylance stealing the show from him at times. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong