Bryan Cranston has reinvented himself after his initial acclaim from his role on Malcolm in the Middle all those years ago. The beginning of this was, of course, the career-defining role of Walter White on Breaking Bad, a show that only got serious attention after a couple of seasons. His performance and the series are now considered amongst the best the medium has to offer. And now, thanks to Walter White, he’s being offered lead roles in films roles instead of the character parts he had done previously.
Cranston has for the most part carefully picked roles that play up his strength at playing morally ambiguous men. The Infiltrator offers a seemingly perfect part for him, but it does feel like he is treading water somewhat, giving us something he has done before. Cranston plays an US Customs agent Robert Mazur who goes undercover as a businessman ‘Bob Musella’ to bust Pablo Escobar’s extensive money-laundering operation in the 80s. The scheme was centred on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was permitting illegal deposits from South American dictators and drug lords, and had secretly gained control of another American bank.
You may not be familiar with Musella’s story, but films like Scarface and Donnie Brasco cover the same territory and are an obvious influence. There’s also a throwback to the classic ‘70s conspiracy thrillers like The Conversation and All the President’s Men—for example, there’s a suitcase with a built-in mike operated by a discreet switch, allowing the agent to collect evidence. Escobar is never seen on-screen. Musella has to live a double life, including a fake fiancée, which leads to marriage problems. A pretend wedding is part of the film’s climax.
The film reaches high, but it doesn’t have the operatic scale of Scarface or the heft of Donnie Brasco. John Leguizamo is good as always in his part as a fellow agent, and Joe Gilgun shines as another informant. The always reliable Jason Isaacs is Cranston and Leguizamo’s superior officer, and Benjamin Bratt plays the cartel’s financial fixer, Roberto Alcaino. The main character has to get close to Alcaino, but then has to sell him out. Amusingly the end credits show photos of all the real life main players with the possible exception of Cranston, the actors have little to no resemblance.
Director Brad Furman worked with Cranston previously on The Lincoln Lawyer, and while they work well together this is a role he could literally do in his sleep. His character doesn’t have the internal conflicts of Donnie Brasco, but the plot moves along at a fairly quick pace (although it could have been edited a bit more tightly). It’s well shot by newcomer Joshua Reis and you would be shocked to find out its first real film as director of photography.
The disc includes commentary from the director and Cranston, a few featurettes that are so short that they are basically trailers with a few interview snippets thrown in, and deleted scenes.