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Joe McGovern
July 13, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Brad Furman, the director of the 2011 hit The Lincoln Lawyer starring Matthew McConaughey and The Infiltrator (in theaters now), describes what he feels when drawing inspiration from great movies. “You try to learn from what works in those films,” he says, “while you try not to mimic it exactly. It’s a challenge. How do you make it fresh for 2016 but also seem kind of classic?”

While making The Infiltrator, a colorful drama about an undercover drug-enforcement agent (Bryan Cranston) working in Miami in the 1980s, Furman consciously avoided thinking of the 1997 drama Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp as an FBI agent infiltrating the mafia. “I love Donnie Brasco but I wanted to be as far away from that as possible,” he says, “so that I wasn’t constantly referencing it.”

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But here are five points of influence Furman tells EW he did allow to float around in his head while making his new movie. 

1. True Romance (1993)

“Before I start working on any movie I watch True Romance. It’s a ritual that I do every time. I think it’s Tony Scott at his absolute best. There are locations like the area outside LAX airport or Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater sitting in front of a billboard in L.A. Or a comic book store or Rae’s Diner. It reminds me about how these real locales can be characters within a movie. Plus the wit of Tarantino’s dialog and the use of music and just Tony Scott’s sense of energy and fun. You watch it and you can feel how much fun he’s having while making it. It’s a movie in hyper mode, and it always puts me in a great mood.”


2. Paul Newman

“When I was making The Lincoln Lawyer with Matthew McConaughey, I was thinking a lot about Elliott Gould in that incredible Robert Altman film, The Long Goodbye. But for Bryan Cranston I found myself thinking about Paul Newman in the latter half of his career. You know, with actors like Newman and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, I was first introduced to them in movies when they were older. And then of course I went back and watched stuff like Butch Cassidy and Straw Dogs. But when Newman made The Color of Money, he was in his early 60s. And with Bryan Cranston, you have an actor who’s only recently begun to headline movies, but he feels very classic Hollywood. His major success has come later in life, yet when you watch him, it seems like he’s been starring in major movies for 30 years. He transcends the perception of him. He’s a rare breed.”


3. JFK (1991)

The character of Mr. X [Paul Brightwell] in The Infiltrator is a complete, total homage to Oliver Stone’s character of Mr. X, played by Donald Sutherland, in JFK. I had to figure out how to convey in the story that Bob Mazur (Cranston) had the CIA pressuring him to step away, and so I thought about JFK and figured I’d include a guy called Mr. X.”

4. Sidney Lumet

“I’m a Sidney Lumet fanatic. There’s no question that his work is a huge influence on most things I do. Whether it’s Dog Day AfternoonSerpico​, Network, all those movies really speak to me. But especially The Verdict, again talking about latter-career Paul Newman. When I watch The Verdict, I just marvel at the pacing of it. The story takes its time to build up, but it’s always engaging you as an audience member. That’s what keeps a great movie in your mind. It’s why we’re still talking about it after 30 or 40 years.”


5. Francis Ford Coppola (via Mickey Rourke)

There is a slinky drug world enforcer named Javier Ospina in The Infiltrator (played by Yul Vazquez from Treme and Bloodline) who seems inspired by a character like Don Fanucci, who also preferred all white suits, in The Godfather: Part II. Furman explains he was thinking about Francis Ford Coppola when he designed Ospina’s entrance into the film, designed to highlight his dangerous, unpredictable nature. 

“I wanted him to be almost mythical, this mysterious man dressed all in white and pulling us into a darker world. The introduction of a character like that is key. I was hanging out with Mickey Rourke recently and he said that Coppola once told him, ‘It’s all about entrances and exits.’ And I think that’s very true. With larger than life characters, that’s the least we can do is give them a great entrance.”

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