Broad Green Pictures 127 minutes R
This is not your ordinary drug cartel or mob movie. It’s smart, slick and tense. Bryan Cranston has done it again. He’s created yet another dual personality as Bob Mazur, U.S. Customs agent and family man who goes dangerously undercover, as Bob Musella. He plays a tough money laundering businessman dealing with drug lord, Pablo Escabar and his people. He also has to deal with bankers at Bank of Credit and Commerce International who were messing with the First American Bank in Washington, D.C. His mission was to make them believe he was on their side so he could gather enough evidence to bring them down.
He sent 85 people to jail and is still traveling hiding his identity because they may still be after him. The film is based on the book written by Mazur himself. Cranston on the Late Show with Steven Colbert divulged that Mazur was there in the building that night, but couldn’t come out. The bad guys are still looking for him!
In Breaking Bad, he was manufacturing drugs. In this one, he’s trying to shut the biggest drug cartel in the 1980’s down and he is fascinating to watch as he has to think on his feet to keep from giving his true identity away. Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) literally shoots scenes following Cranston from behind in long takes so you feel as if you’re walking into the lions den with him. You watch him play along with the sleazy life of the drug dealers, and then go back to his “normal” middle class life with his wife and 2 kids, not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s nerve wracking.
The film is based on a Mazur’s book and Director Furman says he looked at 40 or 50 scripts before deciding on a writer. One of the producers suggested he hire his mother, Ellen Brown Furman to write the screenplay. She was a lawyer at one time and although the director didn’t think it would happen, they did and she did a great job with the script. Furman says it’s about a “good guy with good moral fiber and good ethical core who wanted to make a change. Make an impact.” He devised a plan not just to follow the drugs as a custom agent, but follow the money to try to shut them down. Posing as a slick, savvy, well-dressed businessman, he exposed the drug lords and the banks that were helping launder hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1980’s. There is violence, but it’s important to show how vicious and desperate these people could be.
Mazur himself was interviewed in shadow. He calls Bryan (they’re friends now) a genius. “I never guessed that it would be Bryan Cranston. He thinks on many different levels, not just an actor. Thinking through the whole story.. as screenwriter, director and really a charismatic figure for everyone’s who’s involved in this.”
Mazur says Cranston captured what it was like for him. He describes as “not easy” spending 4 days, hours on end each day in hotel room, with Escobar’s guys and high level drug lords having questions thrown at you about moving money while steering the conversation to get on tape what’s important to prove to a jury. And then he’d go back to his wife, Evelyn, played well and so constrained by British actress, Juliet Aubrey, and be the calm family man.
John Leguizamo plays Emir, Mazur’s high-strung, risk-taking partner who adds some lighter moments to the film. He says while Emir is “buoyant, always gushing and full of life, Bob very controlled and precise.” The juxtaposition makes these characters more than watchable. Cranston says with Leguizamo “You can see his emotion on his face. He comes into it wide open.” And he laughs saying that once when Amy Ryan as their tough boss, Bonnie Tischler, threw John an ad lib, he went nuts! Ryan loved played hard ball with these guys.,”It’s intrigue, dangerous, and (the) crazy unreliable characters that you would imagine in the drug trade.”
Mazur as Musella and his buddy Emir get into all kinds of tight spots trying to make the bad guys believe them. One slip up causes Mazur to create a fiancé so he doesn’t have to prove his manhood with prostitutes to the dealers. After all, he is married. Diane Krueger is assigned as the rookie agent to be his partner.She goes from mousey to chicly dressed blonde bombshell to help Mazur get close to bad guy Roberto Alcaino, played perfectly by Benjamin Bratt, and his wife, Gloria played by Elena Anaya. They become jet setting friends which complicated matters. It all culminates in the ultimate raid, at an extravagant wedding. Plenty to see here.
Academy Award winner, Olympia Dukakis plays a rich Aunt who could provide money helping Mazur create his Musella persona and she plays it up. After wowing the bad guys, she pats herself on the back telling Bobby, “I mean an academy award performance.” It drew laughs.
Is this worth your bucks? Yes, definitely. There are so many times when you think, uh oh, that’s it. But Mazur is so smart, always thinking on his feet and somehow figures out how to keep the game going. Cranston is riveting bouncing between his personalities. Furman and Furman have done a great job putting together a film of this this true and complicated story about a man who put himself in extremely dangerous situations. Cranston says Mazur was committed to doing the right thing, for his country and all of society. And he had to become friends with some very bad people to do it. We owe him a debt. This film shines a light on a hero who still must live in shadow.