Set in the seamy world of the drug trade, “The Infiltrator” is a tale of addiction — but not to drugs. Danger is the narcotic that’s got the picture’s principals in its grip. Rated 3 stars out of 4.

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Set in the seamy world of the drug trade, “The Infiltrator” is a tale of addiction — but not to drugs.

Danger is the narcotic that’s got the picture’s principals in its grip. They know it could kill them, but they can’t break free of its hold. In danger’s thrall, where the slightest misstep could bring ugly, agonizing death, that’s where they feel most alive.

The story of the “Infiltrator” is based on actual individuals and incidents. Set in the mid-1980s, it follows a trio of federal agents, Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) as they go deep undercover to disrupt the financial underpinnings of narco kingpin Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cocaine cartel.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘The Infiltrator,’ with Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger. Directed by Brad Furman from a screenplay by Ellen Brown Furman. 127 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material. Several theaters.

Mazur poses as a sharp-witted money launderer, Ertz as his glamorous fiancée and Abreu as his street-smart, lowlife partner in crime.

Directed by Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) and scripted by his mother, Ellen Brown Furman (based on Mazur’s 2009 memoir “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel”), the picture’s great strength is its powerful performances.

Cranston’s Mazur, a family man with a background in accounting, makes a choice early on to turn down the offer of a safe retirement to instead pursue corrupt bankers and cartel higher-ups.

The execution-style murders of some of the people with whom he has dealings, which leave him literally soaked in their blood, frighten him but don’t deter him. Disciplined and almost insanely brave, he keeps his nerve and moves up the chain of cartel figures. He does this by earning their trust, trust which by the very nature of his role he will betray.

As he grows close to a cultured, ruthless upper-echelon cartel figure played by Benjamin Bratt, Cranston persuasively conveys how morally conflicted Mazur feels about bringing down the man who considers him to be a valued friend.

Leguizamo gives a looser, edgier performance as a guy who freely admits to loving the rush of living on the edge, while Kruger is silky smooth as a rookie agent whose composure and intelligence matches Mazur’s own.

Though “The Infiltrator” breaks no new ground in its storytelling, it is nonetheless a riveting piece of work.