First Hit: Tension begins early and stays through to the end of the film – well done.
The setting is the 1980’s. Columbian cocaine is pouring into the United States through Florida.
The US Government is doing what it can to stop the flow of drugs. Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign was in full bloom and most of the U.S. Customs department’s war on drugs was to follow the flow of the drugs.
One of Customs’ best agents Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) thinks that a better way to get to the top of the cartel was to “follow the money”. He and his partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) set themselves up as a company with bank money laundering connections. Mazur takes the alias of Bob Musella. The way these two find their way to the right banking and cartel connections is filled with tense scenes made only better by the acting, especially by Cranston.
One thing that struck me was the complicated way things came together. There were a lot of characters and plot elements, however, I felt like it how a real life setup might unfold.
For instance, during a conversation with a cartel member in a strip club, Musella said he was engaged. He did this because he didn’t want to partake in a sexual encounter and he was fully committed to his wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey). Stating he was engaged required the U. S. Customs agency to set him up with a finance. His hard line boss Bonnie Tischler (Amy Ryan), selects a newly minted agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) which created its own level of tension and concern because she had no experience.
The film and scenes we’re not done in a highly slick manner, which worked for me because otherwise would have made the film appear too staged. Where Ertz and Musella worked best was during the scenes to develop a relationship with cartel member Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya).
Cranston was really strong in this role based on a true story. His ability to create tension for his life and his family’s life was palpable. Leguizamo was perfect as his partner that seemed the on edge of being a really smart and partially unhinged. Ryan was perfect as the hard-line female Customs boss. Kruger was wonderful as the undercover fiancé. Bratt and Anaya were very strong as major components of the cartel. Ellen Sue Brown wrote a very strong script. Brad Furman did a wonderful job of making the film work by not making it too slick.
Overall: This true story from the Eighties was well represented 30 years later.