The Infiltrator

Posted on July 12, 2016 at 5:25 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material
Profanity: Very strong language, homophobic slurs
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive and graphic violence, guns, car crash, mob executions, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 12, 2016
Copyright 2016 Broad Green
Copyright 2016 Broad Green

“We’ve been following the drugs to get to the bad guys. What if we follow the money?” That simple suggestion from FBI undercover agent Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston) led to an unprecedented massive series of arrests that brought down key members of Pablo Escobar’s cocaine operations — and the world’s 11th biggest bank. Based on Bob Mazur’s book, and with Mazur as a producer, it is set in 1980’s Florida, where Excobar was smuggling in literally tons of cocaine. Getting it into the country was easy. Selling it was easy. Paying off, threatening, and torturing anyone who tried to stop them was easy. The biggest challenge they faced was moving the money between countries.

Mazur, trained as an accountant, went undercover and offered money laundering services to Escobar’s lieutenants, funnelling their stacks of cash through “legitimate” companies and criminal-friendly jurisdictions like Panama, then led by Manuel Noriega. He was able to gain the trust of the drug dealers. It was even easier to get the cooperation of bankers, including the prestigious international financial institution BCCI.

This movie, directed by “The Lincoln Lawyer’s” Brad Furman is sincere, diligent, a little corny, and for better and worse exactly what you expect from a fact-based story of an FBI undercover operative. There is the anxious and at times impatient wife. “Promise me this is the last one.” “I’m just wondering where my little Bobby the accountant went?” She has the thankless task of sighing, getting upset when their anniversary celebration is ruined when he has to go into character because they run into one of his criminal buddies, being jealous of his relationship with a beautiful female agent posing as his fiancee (Diane Kruger) and telling him he should have taken the chance for early retirement.

For a tense crime drama, it is surprisingly inert. We learn very little about what is involved in laundering money to prove himself to the bad guys or how the investigation proceeded or what goes into a long-term undercover operation. Mazur shows up in a Rolls Royce and has access to a mansion. Both were confiscated from drug dealers, but we do not learn that from the movie. What we do see is Mazur going home at night to his modest suburban house and his wife and children and jogging through his neighborhood. Presumably Escobar, one of the most ruthless criminals in history, would not turn over hundreds of millions of dollars to someone without making sure he was who he said he was. Mazur comes across as near-saintly, so even Cranston cannot give the character much by way of depth. The conflicts he feels about betraying a man who trusts him are confusing. Even when he is played by the elegant Benjamin Bratt, he is still a barbaric thug. The “Red Wedding”-style climax is synthetic, which, come to think of it, is the problem throughout. This is a movie about a faker that never feels real.

Parents should know that this film has very intense peril and violence, very disturbing and graphic images, guns, car crash, mob executions, characters injured and killed, very strong and crude language throughout with some homophobic slurs, some nudity, sexual references, drinking, smoking, and drugs and drug dealing.

Family discussion: Do you agree with the sentences received by the people who went to jail in this film? What makes someone good at undercover work?

If you like this, try: “Donnie Brasco,” “American Hustle,” and “Kill the Messenger”

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Tonight on PBS — 1971, Documentary About The Robbery that Exposed FBI Abuses

Posted on May 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Tonight on PBS, the brilliant documentary “1971” will be shown on the Independent Lens series. In 1971, a group of ordinary citizens broke into a small FBI office in Pennsylvania and shared with the world their findings on COINTELPRO, the FBI’s illegal surveillance program. It led to the first-ever oversight hearings on the FBI and paved the way for Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. And yet, the FBI never identified them. Now, they tell their story publicly for the first time.

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Documentary Television

Interview: Joe Berlinger of “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”

Posted on July 5, 2014 at 8:00 am

Joe Berlinger is one of my favorite directors and it was a treat to talk to him about “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” his new documentary on the trial of the notorious gangster. We know Bulgar was a crook. What this movie explores is the manipulations and cover ups from the law enforcement that kept Bulgar from being prosecuted for decades.

If you had a chance to interview Whitey and he agreed to tell the truth, what would you ask him?

The most important question is the central assertion to his claim that he had on immunity deal with Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan and the reason that’s such an important question is it goes to the heart of whether or not he was an informant and if he was not an informant the level of corruption and abuse of our institutions of justice is like significant.

The film raises the question of how much crime you can allow an informant to commit to hold on to his credibility.  Presumably killing is over that line.

David Boeri is a WBUR Reporter who says that as long as informants are the mother’s milk of criminal investigations we have to be really careful because on the one hand you they can’t blow their cover but it doesn’t mean they should be killing people with institutional knowledge because that puts the government in the position of picking and choosing who should live and who should die and that’s not the role of government. You know to empower the Irish mob so that they can bring down the Italian Mafia; there’s something inherently wrong with that. And it wasn’t just limited to Boston. We see the same thing in Gregory Scarpa’s cas.  There’s no question he was a major informant there to bring down the Colombo Crime family and over 50 people were killed under his watch.  There’s something wrong with that system. One of our bedrock principles of our legal system is a defendant should be able to present whatever vigorous defense he wants with the presumption of innocence. Again this is not a wrongful conviction cases, but the guy should have been able to present his point of view. whitey_united_states_of_america_v_james_j_bulger_xlg_2

I love the line in the movie from one of the witnesses: “Of course I lied; I’m a criminal.”  What do you do when everybody that’s testifying is a liar by definition?

The three star witnesses for the government are murderous thugs. I mean could you imagine somebody going up for trial for 20 murders and getting 12 years? He’s a serial killer and yet the government treats him as a star witness, now how is that guy incentivised? It’s what I love about the movies, it is a true Rashomon experience and yet the truth rises to the top and something stinks.  The real story has been swept under the rug because it’s just implausible on so many levels that all that murder and mayhem and bad behavior is solely the responsibility of one relatively low level agent and his corrupt supervisor, it’s just not plausible.

I really want to know how truthful is the claim that he had a deal of protection and frankly it’s an important question that is the major disappointment that I had in observing the trial because that was a question that was not allowed to be aired.  Even before the trial began, the judge ruled that the immunity claim was not allowed to be brought up in trial so that was disallowed as a line of inquiry.  It’s a complicated question but he should have been allowed to bring that up at trial because it’s a central question to the saga and I was disappointed that the judge would not allow because I think it was pretty clear that no matter what happened at trial Whitey Bulger was not going to walk out of that preceding a free man.  Right from the start he admitted to being a drug dealer and loan shark.

I was really interested in the comments on the file by the woman who’s an expert on informants.  Normally when someone gets immunity, isn’t that very well documented?

Well there are two levels, if there was a personal deal of protection like, “Hey, keep me from getting bumped off from the mob and I’ll keep you from being indicted”. That’s not going to be documented.  That’s a personal deal of protection.  There were were all these hallmarks of a fake file and in civil proceedings and in the proceedings against Connolly the government acknowledged that much of that informant file was faked by John Connolly. You can’t have it both ways.  If you’re going to say you faked the files in the proceedings against Connolly then let’s talk about where is the real file if he was an informant? And there are just so many things that don’t hold water.  Again I don’t know whether he was or wasn’t but something stinks.  If he was an informant then there’s some basic protocol that wasn’t being followed by like targeting the head of the gang, he was the head of the gang.

The first person we see in the film is a man who was threatened by Bulgar and is looking forward to testifying against him. But he was murdered before he could appear in court. At the end, the film tells us the murder was unrelated. Really?

I can see it’s a legitimate coincidence but to me the importance of it is that when Rick’s body was discovered on the news and that rippled through the courtroom, everyone — reporters, observers, family members — all were debating, almost like as if they were debating a horse race or a Red Sox game, they were debating with equal plausibility whether or not it was in the government interest to knock him off or in Bulger’s interest to knock him off. I was just kind of stunned by the fact that the government was even considered a possibility, which is demonstrative of the complete erosion of faith in their institutions that they would actually believe they might have a hand in it. That demonstrates why this trial should not have been so narrowly focus on confirming the obvious. The obvious is okay he’s crook, we know it let’s let Bulger talk about whatever he wanted to talk about.

This story has so many people and so many incidents and so many boundaries being crossed, how do you try to help people keep that straight? How do you address that is a filmmaker?

It’s a very challenging story and in addition to that there’s a certain subtlety that I hope the audience gets. I was very conscious that there is a certain amount of the conventional story that you need to tell to set the table and then you have to start picking that conventional story apart and do it in kind of a seamless way. I was so worried that some people would walk thinking, there’s no problem with the conventional story. So the challenge is you start with what everyone says is the truth and then you start showing what the issues are with while still maintaining that that’s still a possibility. You know, people expect to be told what to think and many filmmakers believe you have to have a very singular point of view. I’ve always in all of my work tried to embrace multiple points of view and then hope that the truth rises to the top. And look, I do want to say for the record I don’t think everyone in law enforcement or everyone in the FBI is rotten. I think the majority of people in law enforcement and the majority of people who are in persecution take their job seriously.  And actually I think Wyshock and Kelly are the heroes of this story on a certain level because they came to town in the early 90s being sent from other places said, “what the **** is this?” And against the will of their own Justice Department they were fighting vociferously to bring about those indictments, the indictments that ultimately led to this proceeding. They fought tooth and nail for those against their institutions but at a certain point at this trial they now were put in the position of defending the institution that they once fought against in order to bring these indictments. And you can’t serve two masters; you can’t defend an institution that screwed up while you’re simultaneously trying to get to the root of the problem.

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Crime Directors Documentary Interview

AFI Docs: Three Great Documentaries About Failures of Law Enforcement

Posted on June 20, 2014 at 8:34 am

We had a great first day at AFI Docs, the most important documentary film festival in the country. I am very proud to be a sponsor. Yesterday, we saw three of the films featuring one of this year’s key themes, failure, abuse, and over-intrusiveness of law enforcement, all followed by panel discussions with the filmmakers and those featured in the film.

“1971” is the story of a group of young anti-war protesters who broke into a field office of the FBI in Media, Pennsylvania and stole all of the documents filed there. Before Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, these eight people, anonymous until they came forward four decades later, sent files to newspapers that revealed shocking and illegal activity at the FBI. What they uncovered led to the first-ever oversight hearings and guidelines for FBI activities. Reporter Betty Medsger, who covered the story for the Washington Post, wrote a book about it last year: The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI.

“The Newburgh Sting” is the story of four men who were arrested for planning a terrorist attack on a plane and two synagogues. But the movie reveals that the man who planned and financed the operation was an FBI informant.

“The Internet’s Own Boy” is about Aaron Swartz, a brilliant, passionate young man, the co-founder of Reddit and one of the leaders of the anti-SOPA campaign, who killed himself at age 26 because he was being prosecuted for downloading scholarly journals. He was facing a 13-count indictment with the prospect of a 35 year sentence.

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Documentary Festivals
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