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Remarkably cool-headed during most of the undercover mission, Evelyn Mazur, the wife of Robert Mazur, admitted she did encounter one sticking point when it came to her husband's alternate identity. "The most challenging part of the whole case, to be honest, was the idea of Bob having a fiancé and planning a wedding. For me, that was like time-out." Robert Mazur recalled: "Ev ultimately came to the decision that it would be better for me just to go and stay in deep cover. I could come home when I finished the job and at that point we'd determine whether or not we still had a life together." Mr. and Mrs. Mazur survived the rigors of Operation C-Chase and three decades later remain a happily married couple.
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Former Senator Bob Kerrey said in a Congressional hearing, "Bob Mazur [Robert Mazur] did not have a lot of fancy technology. He had a tape recorder." Operating largely outside of bureaucratic oversight, Mazur's low-budget sting led to more than one hundred criminal indictments and the collapse of the world's seventh largest private bank in 1991, when the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) forfeited $550 million in U.S. assets after pleading guilty to fraud, larceny and money-laundering.
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Corrupt banking practices have metastasized over the ensuing decades since Robert Mazur's 1980s mission, as evidenced by the recent "Panama Papers" leak. Dating back to the 1970s, the secret files document how major international banks continue to hide money in more than two hundred secret off-shore shell companies, without questioning the sources of their clients' income. International banks including BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered Bank, Lloyd's, ING, ABN Amro, Credit Suisse, Barclays, RBS, HSBC, UBS, and Wachovia / Wells Fargo have all paid fines for failing to report suspicious money transfers. "We lack the political will to do anything about it," Mazur observed.
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Robert Mazur (played in the film by Bryan Cranston) credits Dominic (portrayed in the movie by Joseph Gilgun), the mob enforcer posing as his chauffeur, with invaluable fashion tips. "Dominic told me where to buy my clothes," said Mazur, who paid for the expensive suits out of his own pocket. "The government does not outfit you with new clothes. As a Customs Agent there was no way I would have paid that kind of money for a couple of suits, but this stuff helped keep me alive."
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During Robert Mazur's real life training with the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), before he joined the U.S. Customs Office of Enforcement, Mazur learned an invaluable lesson about creating an undercover alias. "I'll never forget when an IRS special agent told me 'Do as much as you can personally to build your own identity and do not rely on the government'." By way of illustration, Robert Mazur said: "If you let someone in the government get you a credit card, there's going to be a red flag in a file somewhere at American Express saying 'If this card becomes overdrawn, contact Special Agent so and so.' The people I infiltrated had very high-level contacts. They've bought presidents of countries. It would be easy for them to get somebody in charge of American Express to give them information."
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A shrewd understanding of body language helped Robert Mazur sell himself as trustworthy to drug traffickers like Cartel Kingpin Rudy Armbrecht, who is played in the film by actor Carsten Hayes. "When I first met Rudy I needed to have him see me as somebody who was very open and transparent," Mazur remembered. "I sat on a couch and had both of my arms on the top of the couch. I didn't have my legs crossed and once we started talking, I opened up as much as I could because these are little things people pick up on."
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Before production began, actor Bryan Cranston spent several days with Robert Mazur observing his role model up close and personal. "Spending time with Bob, I really got a sense of what it takes to live this dichotomy of two different lifestyles," Cranston said. "He has this very specific, methodical way about him, I would say that Bob's actually OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder]. He can't stand things that are out of place, like even when he rolls up his sleeves, Bob wants them to have a nice even roll. I thought it was essential to show this in the movie."
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Working undercover for two years, Robert Mazur struggled to remain cool in the face of life and death situations. "From the outside, it probably looked like I was medicated, but inside my head, fireworks were going off," he said. During one Cartel meeting, Mazur remembered, "Rudy [Armbrecht] told me if I ever turned on them, there wasn't a hole deep enough on this planet that I could hide in. I knew the man he used to work for, Gerardo Moncada, was tortured to death. I also knew that if I acted scared, these criminals have a sixth sense. They can smell fear."
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The key piece in Robert Mazur's undercover tool kit came in the form of a "Renwick" briefcase which contained a tape recorder. The recording device was concealed by a canvas flap held in place by Velcro straps. Mazur endured one spine-chilling close call, dramatized in the film when the straps gave way a few inches from Cartel members. Mazur recalled: "I was in a hotel room with Rudy Armbrecht (played in the film by actor Carsten Hayes) when I picked up the briefcase lid. The Velcro let loose, the thing fell down and I was looking straight down into the recorder and this nest of wires. I kept talking to Rudy trying to act normal when he got up because he wanted to see some papers in the briefcase. I managed to re-close the compartment within a split second of when Rudy leaned over." Mazur concluded: "There are a bunch of different ways in which you can get killed and one of them would have been if Rudy had seen that tape recorder."
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For the actual operation, Robert Mazur recruited his friend, the late Eric Wellman, to provide an array of persuasive props. "Eric had an investment company, a mortgage business, a jewelry chain, a Rolls Royce, an air charter service with a private jet, all types of resources that I couldn't have gotten as an agent because law enforcement doesn't have all that inventory," Mazur laughed. Wellman is portrayed in the movie by actor Mark Holden.
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Robert Mazur has said of this movie: 'It wasn't until I shared my story with one of the most creative minds in Hollywood, and heard his reaction, that I realized the immense power of this story."
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Former mob enforcer-turned-bodyguard Dominic, played in the film by actor Joseph Gilgun, schooled Robert Mazur in the importance of looking like a big-time operator for the operation. "Dominic warned me that if I sit across from some drug trafficker with my legs crossed, they're going look at the soles of my shoes. I'm not believable as a multimillionaire money launderer if I'm wearing cheap JC Penney shoes with holes in the soles. But if my shoes are Italian made and cost a couple of hundred bucks, that sends a completely different message."
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Evelyn Mazur, the wife of Robert Mazur, remembered what it was like to assume the role of single parent. "When Bob was home physically, he was mentally here maybe 75 percent of the time but he was always thinking, thinking, thinking," said Evelyn Mazur. "[Operation] C-Chase was more intense and longer than anything Bob had done before. The kids knew when the strobe light in the closet went on, they had to go to their rooms and be silent. If we were traveling in the car and Bob's undercover phone went on, the rule was 'Sit still and don't talk'."
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The real-life Robert Mazur once said of Operation C-Chase: "We managed an operation and stayed right on top of it, making sure that what we got was not just the money, but what we got was evidence that was prosecutable against individuals who we actually could arrest."
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The film was made and released about seven years after its source autobiographical book "The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel" by Robert Mazur had been first published in 2009.
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Actor Bryan Cranston explained about signing on to this film: "The thing that really got to me and made me want to do The Infiltrator (2016) is that Bob's job is to befriend these criminals to the point where they completely trust him. He knows their children, he knows a lot about Roberto and Gloria; it's true, deeply rooted friendship. And then Bob arrests them. So to me The Infiltrator (2016) is a story of friendship and betrayal."
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Ultimately, actor Bryan Cranston, who portrays Robert Mazur, pointed out, "My job was not to do an impersonation of Bob Mazur. My job was to capture his sensibility and point of view, then fill in the blanks with imagination and research."
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Above all, director Brad Furman aimed to infuse the film with authenticity. "I wanted to make sure this movie felt grounded and real," said Furman, who found period inspiration in such films as Donnie Brasco (1997) and Scarface (1983). "We played with the flamboyance of the era, but in a subtle way."
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Robert Mazur's high-risk operation made it difficult to lead a normal family life. He explained: "After being away for a month I'd come home with a suitcase full of dirty clothes expecting to immediately resume my position as the dad and husband, but the family had made a tremendous adjustment, and everybody was on autopilot."
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Coming off his critically-acclaimed thriller The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), director Brad Furman was already intrigued with Pablo Escobar when he sparked to the picture's potential as a fresh entry point into Narcos subculture. "I was fascinated with Bob's genius idea to suffocate the cartels by following their money," Furman said . "I was drawn to his story because it has all these layers of complexity that you might find in movies like Traffic (2000) or The Insider (1999)."
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Top priority was creating a wardrobe for star Bryan Cranston that embodied the flashy lifestyle for his Robert Mazur's "Bob Musella" alter ego character. "There's a big contrast between Bryan's look as a Customs Officer compared with this superhero money launderer that he invented," explained costume designer Dinah Collin. "Bob told me he actually spent $12,000 on these Italian suits, so the tailor I worked with produced bold suits made of wonderful fabrics from Saville Row," she recalled. "There's a dinner suit Bob Musella wears in the movie that has a little bit of sparkle, just enough to give it that kick."
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During a casual lunch in New York, where actor Bryan Cranston had portrayed Lyndon Baines Johnson in the Broadway production of "All the Way", director Brad Furman brought up the film project of The Infiltrator (2016). "On a complete whim, I told Bryan he'd be perfect for this movie," Furman recalled. "He [Cranston] said, 'Let me look at the script.' Within a week, Bryan said 'I'm in'. I was excited beyond belief."
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The film agent of director Brad Furman passed the film's source book by Robert Mazur to British producer Miriam Segal, who recognized the story's potential. Her Good Films company acquired the rights and compiled a list of potential writers. Furman's mother, short story writer Ellen Furman, who is billed in the credits as Ellen Brown Furman, got added to the mix, put together a pitch and got the assignment. Director Furman recalled: "In the end, Miriam came to me and said 'I'm hiring your mother because she's the best writer of the bunch'."
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Actress Diane Kruger, who portrays Kathy Ertz, savors The Infiltrator (2016) as a period piece of uncommon grit. She said: "It's always a fun ride to be taken back in time and it's amazing to watch this movie and understand that these things actually happened. I love films that are kind of slick and look cool but at the same time, there's a real sense of gravity to the story."
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The picture details how Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) developed paperwork, props and mannerisms aimed at selling his fake identity to suspicious drug traffickers. Though he often picked names from tombstones, as depicted in the film, Mazur actually found his "Bob Musella" identity in an archive curated by San Francisco-based marijuana smugglers. "They kept meticulous files of fake identities," said Mazur. "When I found 'Robert Musella,' born in New Jersey just across the river from Staten Island where I'm from, I thought that would be a good pick. There was no death certificate so I started to build on that identity."
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Actor John Leguizamo, who portrays Emir Abreu, sees this film as a little known chapter of The War on Drugs history that offers moviegoers a thrilling perspective on big issues. "The Infiltrator (2016) is a very complicated story and that's the kind of movie I like," he said. "I'm a grown-up and I like movies for grown-ups. I'm not into kiddie flicks, I don't like to be spoon fed, I don't like simplistic plots. I like the fact that this movie works on both the drug deal level and the banking level because I don't think we've ever really seen those two worlds merge and taken down simultaneously. That's the brilliance of this movie."
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A few years into Bryan Cranston's Emmy-winning run in Breaking Bad (2008), he made an indelible impression on Furman when he appeared in the director's second film The Lincoln Lawyer (2011). "That was a tough movie to shoot," Furman recalled. "The thing that stuck with me afterwards is Bryan's moral core and just who he is as a man. Bryan's humble, very much like Bob Mazur, and we built a friendship out of that."
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On set, actor Bryan Cranston "filled in the blanks" with uncommon intensity, according to producer Miriam Segal. "Bryan's one of the most detailed, textured, unpretentious, honest actors I've ever worked with," she explains. "He's very low-maintenance and a great leader. I remember it was three in the morning toward the end of filming in Tampa and Bryan's there talking to the cameraman going, 'Just take that cutaway, just take that cutaway.' I kept saying to [director] Brad [Furman], 'It's enough now. We have to wrap.' So Brad and I went over to Bryan and wrestled him off set, because he threw so much of his heart and soul into this film."
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In developing a distinctive look for the picture, filmed largely in London in England, with key exteriors filmed on location in Tampa in Florida, director Brad Furman steered clear of the overly familiar '80s-era iconography popularized by the television series Miami Vice (1984). Instead, Furman worked with storyboard artist 'Nathan Morse,' cinematographer Joshua Reis, make-up artist & hair designer Sharon Martin, and British costume designer Dinah Collin to craft his own period-specific aesthetic. "For me," Furman said, "The '80s can be really cheesy so I wanted to find a way to represent the '80s and make it cool."
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By the time Robert Mazur and his team launched Operation C-Chase, Florida was reeling from an unprecedented avalanche of drugs, cash and Cartel-related violence. Mazur remembered how the 1979 Dadeland Mall massacre put the community on alert. "This Medellín Cartel hit squad jumped out of this truck in broad daylight with machine guns in the middle of this mall and sprayed the guys they wanted to kill," he said. "It scared the hell out of the entire town because we never imagined the kind of violence that happened every single day in Colombia would now be exported to Florida." By 1984, Dade County in Florida had become the nation's most murder-prone metropolitan areas, with 23.7 murders per 100,000 population, while Florida's murder rate was surpassed by only three states.
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Director Brad Furman admired Robert Mazur's low-budget approach to undercover, designed to minimize bureaucratic meddling. Furman said: "Bob shaped this really intimate, personal operation, sort of like an independent film, which allowed him to do things his way. He pulled the strings and blew open a hole into all the corruption at BCCI and the cartels. That's why it became such a fascinating story to me and everybody else."
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Robert Mazur's 1980s mission anticipated a global Narcos economy that has only grown more virulent over the ensuing decades. A recent United Nations (UN) report estimated that illegal drugs generate US $400 billion in profits annually, with the US Department of Justice claiming annual seizures worth roughly US $1 billion.
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The slightly larger than life aesthetic also extended to characters' coifs. "We're living in the world of big hair," star Bryan Cranston, who portrays Robert Mazur, laughed. "They back-teased my hair to get more volume, which I didn't know you could do. What you see in the movie, that's all my own hair but when Sharon Martin, our make-up and hair person, back teased it, all of a sudden the volume of hair becomes like a pompadour."
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Portions of the film were shot at Dunsfold Aerodrome which is the same airfield used for Top Gear (2002) UK.
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The look of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt)'s chic wife Gloria Alcaino (Elena Anaya), was modeled partially on former U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan, costume designer Dinah Collin explained. "Elena talked to me about how everything needed to match in the same way that Nancy Reagan used to look. She's very particular, almost like something back in the '50s where you've got a matching handbag and you need to wear exactly the right color shoes. All the bits have to work together."
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As for the look of Medellín Cartel drug trafficker Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), costume designer Dinah Collin said, "It's all about Armani. You'll notice in the wedding, Benjamin sits down in a double-breasted tuxedo without undoing it. He's just such a clothes person, it's wonderful."
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In one scene, Kathy (Diane Kruger) states that Aunt Vicky (Olympia Dukakis) gives an Academy Award worthy performance. Dukakis won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Moonstruck (1987).
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The second Brad Furman-directed cinema movie to feature both actors Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo. The first was The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) which had been made and released around five years earlier.
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Bryan Cranston weighed in with his own take on the Bob Musella fashion style. "Bryan pointed out at one of the fittings that the shirt collars needed to be more extreme," costume designer Dinah Collin recalled. "I hadn't particularly noticed until we got the shirt-maker to make the longer collar. Then I absolutely understood what Bryan was talking about."
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Actor Bryan Cranston, who portrays Robert Mazur, has often played morally complex characters grappling with questions of good and evil. This movie contributes a thrilling addition to that body of work. Cranston said: "The Infiltrator (2016) takes the audience on a journey because it's many things. It's a bit of a thrill. It's a family drama about a man's character and his drive to achieve something of great benefit. Then there's the danger and intrigue and hubris and greed from the Medellín Cartel where you find all these crazy, unreliable characters. It's a real roller-coaster ride."
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Actress Diane Kruger had her own pop culture references in mind when it came to the hairdo of her Kathy Ertz character. "At the beginning, I wanted my look to be like Cagney & Lacey (1981)," she laughed. Director Brad Furman though opted for something more subtle. Kruger added: "Brad really does not like the whole perm look and big prints and shoulder pads, so we tried to find a good balance."
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Director Brad Furman believes the heroes and villains at the heart of this picture will resonate for contemporary audiences. He said: "Hopefully we're putting something in the zeitgeist that might create awareness about the kind of corruption and crimes that Bob Mazur [Robert Mazur] started to expose back in the '80s. Now is the right time to release The Infiltrator (2016) because I think people are hungry for a film that dares to be intelligent and trusts them to follow along."
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To complete Bob Musella (Bryan Cranston)'s underworld ensemble, costume designer Dinah Collin and her team found a source on the internet that sold matching pocket scarves and ties. "They were very loud and luscious," said Collin, who also rounded up snake skin boots for Cranston along with authentic '80s shoes which were purchased at the Brixton Village Market vintage flea markets in South London.
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At 5'11" tall, star Bryan Cranston is considerably taller than the real-life Robert Mazur, the film's central character whom Cranston portrays in this film.
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Star Bryan Cranston, who cites The Conversation (1974), The French Connection (1971) and All the President's Men (1976) as personal reference points for The Infiltrator (2016), also warmed to the challenge of playing a man who leads two lives. "As his normal self, Bob Mazur [Robert Mazur] is this calm, committed family man to his two children and his wife," he said. "And then there's the character of this flamboyant businessman that Bob takes on for work. He flies private jets, goes to strip clubs and the best restaurants, drinks the best wines, plays the big shot, and then he puts all that aside and goes home to his middle-class life. I liked the challenge of blending those two things because it's hard enough when you have a regular job to balance home and neighborhood and relatives. In that sense I think Bob's very relatable, but then he has the added pressure from the dangerous work he does."
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The movie features two Oscar nominees, Bryan Cranston, who was Oscar nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for Trumbo (2015) and Amy Ryan, who was Oscar nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Gone Baby Gone (2007), and one Oscar winner, Olympia Dukakis, who won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Moonstruck (1987).
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The tagline for the 2016 movie tie-in edition of Robert Mazur's source book "The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel, first published in 2009, and which has now been re-titled with the shorter name of just "THE INFILTRATOR", as with this feature film's title, changed for the release of this movie, reads: "Undercover in the World of Drug Barons and Dirty Banks".
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The third collaboration between John Leguizamo and Brad Furman after The Take (2007) and The Lincoln Lawyer (2011).
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The picture began to take shape as a movie when director Brad Furman read Robert Mazur's 2009 memoir "The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel". The book, recommended to Furman by his long-time producing partner Don Sikorski, details how Mazur risked his life to expose corrupt banking executives and drug traffickers with minimal resources.
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Debut theatrical feature film in a full producing capacity as a main producer of writer-director Brad Furman.
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The code name of the covert undercover mission was "Operation C-Chase". The name of another code-name featured in the film was "Primo".
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The nick-name of Federal U.S. Customs Service special agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) was "Bob," whilst his full alias name was "Bob Musella" or "Robert Musella." Further, the nickname of his wife, Evelyn Mazur (Juliet Aubrey), was "Ev." Moreover, the alias name used on an Argentinian passport by Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) was "Fernando Alvarez."
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Actor John Leguizamo previously co-starred as the mobster Benny Blanco in Brian De Palma's gangster movie Carlito's Way (1993), a picture whose story-line also involved drug trafficking.
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The acronym BCCI stood for "The Bank of Credit and Commerce International."
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One of two major 2016 cinema movies which referenced Brian De Palma's classic 1980s drug gangster epic movie Scarface (1983). The films are War Dogs (2016) and The Infiltrator (2016).
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This picture's opening title cards read "TAMPA, FLORIDA - 1985" and "Based on a true story."
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