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'The Infiltrator' lacks novelty but has nail-biting pizzazz

'Infiltrator' stars Bryan Cranston as a federal agent going after Colombian drug lords. John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, and Benjamin Bratt co-star.

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'The Infiltrator' stars Bryan Cranston (l.) and John Leguizamo (r.).

Liam Daniel/Broad Green Pictures/AP

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Bryan Cranston plays a federal agent going after Colombian drug lords in “The Infiltrator,” a kind of reverse-image “Breaking Bad” that showcases once again Cranston’s robust acting chops. As real-life Robert Mazur, aka Bob Musella, he’s a man with a double life: a suburban husband and father but also a US Customs agent leading a sting operation that threatens not only himself but his wife and daughter.

The threats he faces are of the utmost luridness. So why does he risk everything? The film, directed by Brad Furman and written by Ellen Brown Furman (the director’s mother), never delves into the psychological intricacies of this question.

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But then again, it’s not that kind of film. Just about every scene, set in the Reagan 1980s, has already been done, in some variation or other, by umpteen movies about feds and druggies, but what it lacks in novelty, it mostly makes up for in nail-biting pizzazz. The tension is sustained by the constant fear that one small slip, one misplaced word, can mean the end, not only to the sting operation but to Mazur.

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There are the obligatory scenes in which Mazur pretends to be a high-end money launderer in order to work his way up the chain of the Medellín cartel. His partner, Emir, as hot-wired temperamentally as Mazur is cooled-out, is played by John Leguizamo in full throttle. His faux fiancée, undercover agent Kathy (Diane Kruger), looks like a blond objet d’art but has smarts to spare. Slinky, slimy druggies inhabit much of this world, none so sleek as Miami-based Roberto Alcaino, played by Benjamin Bratt as if he were perpetually about to mix the perfect martini.

The film’s central dynamic – the infiltrator’s classic dilemma of getting too emotionally close to the people he will betray – could have been much enhanced. But on its own limited terms, “The Infiltrator,” like its hero, delivers the goods. Grade: B (Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material.)