Film review | That undercover life

The Infiltrator brings on board Bryan Cranston to tell the story of how he helped compromise Pablo Escobar’s money laundering organisation in the 1980s • 2/5

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
25 October 2016, 9:46am
A dangerous three-way: John Leguziamo, Bryan Cranston and Joe Gilgun in The Infiltrator
A dangerous three-way: John Leguziamo, Bryan Cranston and Joe Gilgun in The Infiltrator
Based on the account of Bob Mazur, The Infiltrator brings on board Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston – America’s character actor du jour – to tell the story of how he helped compromise Pablo Escobar’s money laundering organisation in the 1980s. Helmed by Brad Furman – the director of low-energy and humdrum financial thrillers The Lincoln Lawyer (2007) and Runner Runner (2013) – this has all the elements of a great potboiler that only needs a dash of spice to become a truly delectable dish. But save for Cranston’s predictably engaging performance, nothing else in the film appears to be willing to eke out of genericsville.

Respected US Customs Service agent Bob Mazur (Cranston) is ready to give up his role as an undercover agent, much to the delight of his concerned wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey). But then, a seductive job opportunity pops up: Customs appear to have a lead on how Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar launders his money between Columbia and the US. With his wiry new partner Emir (John Leguziamo) in tow, Mazur – under the guise of ‘Bob Musella’ – penetrates deeper and deeper into this wide-ranging criminal network, coming face-to-face with both hardened gangsters and corrupt Panamanian bankers (!). He is also forced into uncomfortable loyalties as, edging closer and closer to Escobar’s power circle, he forms a genuine bond with the gentlemanly Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya) – one of Escobar’s most powerful business partners. 

Really, thank the gods for Cranston. At least, this is what I imagine the committee of producers and executive producers saying as they oversee The Infiltrator going into production and distribution. As ever, he’s a powder keg of an actor – even when he’s giving us pretty much what we expect from his brand of mundane despair and sublime rage. It’s no surprise that the person who breathed life into Breaking Bad’s Walter White was picked for this particular role, either. Like White, Bob is forced to lead a double life: only in this case, the bad stuff is sanctioned by the law. It still makes for an awkward situation with his wife, and even here we get shades of Breaking Bad’s Skyler in Evelyn’s disapproval of Bob going deeper and deeper into his mission. 

Uncomfortable alliance: Benjamin Bratt and Cranston
Uncomfortable alliance: Benjamin Bratt and Cranston
But of course, the time limits of a feature film mean there’s no space to develop the kind of complexity Skyler also enjoyed, with the consequence being that Evelyn is relegated to the role of the tut-tutting wife whose sole purpose is to communicate her disapproval at every step of the way. It’s a generic role for the female lead, and her usurpation of by Diane Kruger’s stand-in wife Kathy – brought in after Bob invents a fiancé while trying to get out of a sticky situation – doesn’t do much to add to the drama. Save for a weak will-they-or-won’t-they strand that isn’t quite followed up, the chemistry between Kruger and Cranston is weak – a shame, since we’re talking about a couple of highly accomplished actors here. 

These details matter, because The Infiltrator is yet another example of a Hollywood-ready ‘true story’ that is compelling enough on its own, yes, but that needs to have some character to stand out from the myriad other films of its ilk. Like last year’s Johnny Depp-starring Black Mass, The Infiltrator proves that simply obeying the rules of the crime thriller – and each traditional beat is diligently respected, despite it being derived from Mazur’s real-life account – does not compelling viewing make. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...