Bryan Cranston’s swagger helps save this clunky gangster movie (sort of). More of him in everything, please.
Life is just not the same without Bryan Cranston donning his infamous yellow hazmat suit as Walter White in Vince Gilligan’s acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad. But three years after the breakthrough show’s season finale, the Cran has kept busy turning it up in all kinds of juicy character roles. From studio flicks like Godzilla and Kung Fu Panda 3 to awards-y dramas like Trumbo and All the Way, he has come a long way since good old Mr. White. In The Infiltrator, Cranston assumes the role of Robert Mazur, a real life former undercover agent who infiltrated the drug trafficking network of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the money laundering conspiracy of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in the mid 1980s. Though the film feels disjointed at times, you can’t help but have fun watching Cranston’s slick turn as a hero struggling to stay good as he’s forced to break bad.
The Infiltrator is based on Mazur’s book of the same name which he was inspired to write after director Michael Mann suggested his story had potential for the big screen. (Mazur served as a consultant on Mann’s 2006 film Miami Vice.) He infiltrates the cartel using the alias Bob Musella, a money launderer whose specialty is moving money for mob clients. Mazur’s partner Amir Abreu (John Leguizamo), a tough-talking, street-smart cop, poses as his employee who has an informant set up their connection to Medellín cartel henchmen. Mazur doesn’t trust Abreu and his informant but he has no other way in. He enlists recently arrested criminal Dominic (Joseph Gilgun) to become his chauffeur and bodyguard as the team embarks on operation “C-Chase”, an undercover initiative to “follow the money” in order to get to the top of the drug chain.
The scale of the plot is massive, reaching the upper echelons of a criminal banking conspiracy and Pablo Escobar’s inner circle, but the script – adapted by Ellen Sue Brown from Mazur’s book – puts much of its focus on the burden that the investigation places on Mazur’s personal and family life. His wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey) starts off as the cool girl, a stalwart supporter of Mazur’s dual life. But as he begins to inexplicably act and dress more like the criminal he’s playing during his off-duty hours, she grows weary, mopey, and uncool. It’s an unfair portrayal because she’s obviously been with him through countless other undercover operations. It makes no sense for her to suddenly sulk about this one, and the only purpose this choice seems to serve is to heighten the drama for the movie.
Mazur’s operation takes him around the world from Tampa Bay to Paris, and he meets a plethora of personalities along the way including high-ranking Escobar official Fernando Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), ball-busting agent Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), and countless BCCI executives and cartel members. With so little time to devote to all of them, these characters emerge as carbon copies of gangster movie stereotypes. Diane Kruger plays his undercover agent-fiancée Kathy Ertz like a demure Elvira from Scarface. The (literally) crazy cartel member Ospina’s (Yul Vazquez) last words to Mazur echo Michael’s final scene with his brother Fredo in The Godfather 2. Fortunately, Cranston expertly maneuvers his way through all the character relationships and interactions – he’s in almost every scene. But even Cranston’s swaggiest swagger can’t save the film from its shortcomings.
The Infiltrator is a gangster-movie-by-numbers, mechanically moving from one plot point to the next with a quickness yet failing to give context for major story events and characters. What could have been an intriguing character study in Mazur turns into a dragging and predictable gangland tale with intricacies that may have been best served through a longform storytelling device or a more polished script. Director Brad Furman creates some great suspense sequences including a tense moment with a witch doctor/voodoo magician/dude and when Mazur’s recording device malfunctions during a key meeting. But then there are strange moments, like an unsuspected run-in with a cartel member during Mazur’s off-duty hours and awkward, forced emotional moments with Ertz. There’s also the stripper scene— still processing that one.
Mazur’s operation “C-Chase” led to one of the largest money laundering prosecutions in U.S. history, and from his nifty website you can see the man has put in a lot of work in the fight against corruption. The Infiltrator may be fragmented and superficial, but it shines a much needed light on the inner workings of a dark and powerful underworld fueled by dirty money. Cranston playing good-guy-goes-bad is incredibly fun to watch, but despite his impeccable acting skills, his post-BB roles have been hit or miss. One can only hope that such a fine actor could someday find himself in another role as perfect and unforgettable as the inimitable Heisenberg.