Directed by Brad Furman
In an odd move for a non-major holiday week, “The Infiltrator” had a Wednesday opening, including at Sacramento’s Tower Theatre where non-Friday openings are even more unusual. But, odd scheduling or not, it’s a very good film and the pick of the week for serious adult fare of the R-rated kind.
Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur, a career customs agent who worked undercover operations that targeted the drug trade. Based on Mazur’s book, the film suggests that he was the first (or one of the first) to “follow the money,” by focusing attention on tracking the financial transactions associated with international drug deals rather than following the drugs themselves. Targeting the drugs tended to uncover dealers and traffickers whereas the theory was that targeting the money would identify individuals higher up in the drug cartels, in this case specifically those working for Pablo Escobar, and also the bankers who facilitated the international money laundering side of things.
It’s an interesting study of undercover assignments that are deeper than a quick bust but still not true deep undercover work. Mazur had experience playing the role of people other than himself, but apparently still routinely went home at night or maintained at least a part of his own life, as did those around him. This is perhaps best demonstrated in a scene during which one of the drug traffickers bumps into him and his wife at an already awkward anniversary dinner, causing him to switch personas on the fly. In that sense the tension is well established and portrayed, and the downsides risks are also made clear, but the fear and stress are less constantly palpable than in a classic film such as 1973’s “Serpico.” Then again, even bringing such a film to mind is testimony to the quality of the project.
Cranston is strong in the lead role and well supported by the rest of the cast, most notably John Leguizamo as his partner (who starred for director Brad Furman in “The Take”), Juliet Aubrey as the long-suffering wife who never knows if or when her husband will come home, and Olympia Dukakis in a scene stealing performance as his larger than life Aunt Vicky. Benjamin Bratt plays one of the higher ranking cartel members and, in that relationship between Mazur and Bratt’s Roberto Alcaino, the film also demonstrates the personal difficulties in getting sufficiently close to some people to bring them down, while simultaneously finding that you quite like them on a personal level, faults and all.
“The Infiltrator” is serious cinema in a season of lighter content and feels more like an early fall drama than a summer film. Furman is building a neat resume having also made “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Runner, Runner.” His latest might overcome the timing of its release and be remembered when the annual awards nominations come out, but it feels more like a potential nominee (most likely for Cranston) than an ultimate winner.
If “Ghostbusters” was a personal favorite film and cherished memory from your childhood, then the idea of a remake may simply rub you the wrong way. If you’re a closeted, overt (or sub-conscious) sexist, then the idea of remaking it with a female cast may also annoy you. After all, in the real world, busting ghosts is so clearly a male dominated and penis-dependent professional field of actual employment. But outside of those two situations, the new film is mostly just fun and carries with it enough fan-service elements to amuse the less aggrieved members of the earlier generation. It also pokes fun at sexism itself, by having Kristen Wiig’s character completely objectify the mind-numbingly stupid but pretty male receptionist played by Chris Hemsworth. Wiig’s teammates are played by Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones and it’s a fun combination, albeit that each character (not actress) has little range/few dimensions (which isn’t the worst crime in a silly comedy). The special effects in the movie are mostly adequate if not ground-breaking, with perhaps a couple of clunky moments that don’t look quite up to par (again, which isn’t the worst crime in a silly comedy). Overall, if you’re looking for a good time watching silly ghost-busting antics and you’re not hung up on gender or otherwise pre-disposed to dislike the film, it’s a good spirited remake that’s hard to not enjoy.
The first preview for “The Secret Life of Pets” focused on the premise that pets do odd and crazy things when their people leave them alone. In some instances they’re crippled by intense separation anxiety and in others, they use furniture/appliances to their own advantage. That’s not such a stretch as we’ve seen and shared online videos of real pets doing exactly those things. Perhaps you remember an action-cam video of a dog freaking out all day when left alone or another of a beagle moving chairs around in order to access chicken nuggets from a toaster oven. However, by the time the second preview was released (I saw it with “The Jungle Book”), it showed us that the film also has a conventional and somewhat ordinary storyline about two dogs who are reluctant roommates trying to avoid and then escape from animal control officers. Frankly, I preferred the thought of the simpler, less narrative film that the first trailer seemed to promise (as did the mixed generation group I was with at the time) but it would have been an unlikely and risky film to make – as if Terrence Malick made cutesy, animated kids films. The final film feels at its strongest when it’s a character study of those unsupervised pets and less noteworthy when it becomes a frenetic chase movie. It’s still fun, and a good clean summer diversion for kids, but I miss the earlier promise of something quite different.
I’ve written before about the tendency to remake or follow films in which men behave badly with films in which women behave equally badly. Paul Feig, who co-wrote and directed this week’s “Ghostbusters” previously directed 2011’s “Bridesmaids” (following the success of the R-rated comedy in “The Hangover”) and we’ve just had the young men of “Neighbors” replaced with the young women of “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” raises the efficiency level by introducing us to brothers Mike and Dave (Zac Efron and Adam Devine) who are so destructive at family events that, via a family intervention, they are told they can’t attend their sister’s wedding unless they bring “nice” dates to temper their behavior. Except of course that the dates they find (or more accurately, who find them) are at least as badly behaved and motivated. The young women are played by Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, who seems to be playing the same character she played in “Bad Grandpa,” also with Efron. It’s probably a bad sign that I identified more with the family members asking them to tone it down a bit than with the partiers, which is not to say that I didn’t laugh but more that I laughed and cringed in approximately equal amounts.