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Benjamin Bratt on 'The Infiltrator' and finding sympathy for the devil

The actor plays a bad guy in the new docudrama, but he didn't want to make him simple.
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    Benjamin Bratt plays a higher-up in Pablo Escobar's drug cartel who has no idea on|David Lee, Broad Green Pictures

Benjamin Bratt was a little worried about doing “The Infiltrator.” The film tells of one of the largest criminal round-ups in law enforcement history, when a team of federal agents — led by undercover agent Robert Mazur (played by Bryan Cranston) — got in deep with a wing of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel. He wound up busting dozens of his employees in one fell swoop. Bratt plays Roberto Alcaino, one of Escobar’s highers-ups, to whom Mazur got so close the two became close friends. Alcaino is still alive and behind bars, and Bratt hopes he likes his performance.

It’s kind of amazing that this hasn’t been made into a film already.
What I found remarkable when I first read the book was how cinematic it is, almost to the point of unbelievability. Even the way they capture, arrest and indict the 85-plus criminals at the end, it feels like a movie rather than something that really happened.

That said, maybe one reason is fear of telling a story where some dangerous people are still alive and might not want the story told.
That had to be a consideration. To get that deep undercover you’re crossing paths with a dangerous class of people, whose reach is long. They’re still alive and well and just as dangerous as they were back in the day. I think a lot of forethought went into whether it was a smart idea to turn this into a film. That led me to an equally personal consideration in terms of taking this job on. I’ve had the opportunity in the past to play people who have pre-existed or left some mark on society. But never someone of this class, where the potential fall-out if they don’t like the performance is pretty grave. [Laughs] It gave me some pause, I must admit.

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You do actually give him humanity, though. He’s not a stock villain.
I hope he reads this article and thinks as much. [Laughs] It was the chance to play someone who was multidimensional, very complex and in possession of many qualities I admire personally in a friend or a family member. He’s a man of integrity, a man of principle, a man who’s discreet and family-oriented, a loving husband — what’s not to like about a guy like that?

Of course, the kind of business he’s in has a very serious and heavy fall-out for those who cross his path. He’s using a twisted logic to explain why he does what he does. He has a line where he says, “I could be sweating my balls off working in a restaurant somewhere. But I’m fulfilling a need.” It’s a question of practicality in his mind, a question of supply and demand. He grabs the American dream, the notion of coming from nothing and rising to something, and twists and turns it to explain what he does.

He also points out he’s not as violent as Pablo Escobar, who would torture people for days.
It’s mentioned in the book, but we don’t speak about it in the film, but apparently there were two members of that syndicate who got a little greedy and started dipping their hands into the pot. They were hung upside down and blowtorched, slowly, to death. What that speaks to at the end is how dangerous a job it was for Bob Mazur to take on. He’s not an actor, but he’s called on in this very real event to become the ultimate actor. He’s not allowed to slip up even once, because if he does he dies. Our job is easy by comparison. We get another take.

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Another interesting angle is that we may find a degree of sympathy for Roberto. He puts his trust in loyalty into Bob, unaware that Bob will at one point betray him. You could even feel bad for him.
I was surprised by the number of people who had that reaction so powerfully. What it speaks to, whether you’re on the right side of the law or the wrong side, is that when we’re double-crossed it’s hurtful. You see when Bob Mazur is in the courtroom facing the 85-plus families of those indicted. He saw those stares, those looks like laser beams of accusation and hurt and betrayal. Even though we see a bad guy get betrayed, what we’re feeling is when that happens to us. And it doesn’t feel good.

We’re also forced to feel for people who’ve done objectively terrible things.
That’s right. In addition to that, there’s the very obvious collateral damage in terms of the destruction of the family unit. I’m not certain if his wife was all that innocent, but certainly his daughter was. Although [the film] clearly draws the lines between the good guys and the bad guys, we’re all human beings at the end of the day. We’re all capable of misjudgment. We’re all fallible.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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