Regardless of what the Supreme Court has ruled, I could never be married to the actor Bryan Cranston. I simply would never be able to trust him because I always find him so believable in every film role. He could come home after being gone for two weeks, tell me he was abducted by aliens, sent to the planet Zoruk where he was forced to play a game of three-dimensional chess (remember, from the old Star Trek series?) with the fate of planet resting in the balance, and I would totally buy it. This is indeed the case in his newest film Infiltrator opening July 13. Bryan Cranston plays real-life DEA agent Robert Mazur who went undercover as a money launderer for Columbian drug lords in the 1980s. Although primarily set in south Florida, the film follows Mazur as he hobnobs with the criminal jet set all over the globe. All the while, he is driven to try and maintain his relationships with his wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey) and two kids. Finding the right balance between work and home is hard enough without the added stress of your co-workers being the sort to massacre everyone you love should you earn a poor quarterly review.
This is where the talents of Mr. Cranston, who has to be considered one of America’s best true actors, really come to shine. I found myself totally believing he was Robert Mazur, that indeed he had been married to his on-screen partner for several decades, that he was truly in fear for his life during several key moments of the film. I saw no trace of Walter White from Breaking Bad or even LBJ from the recent HBO adaptation of his Broadway performance All the Way. As the plot of The Infiltrator unfolds, the audience can feel the inner-torment Robert is feeling as he grows increasingly closer to the very people he is trying to ensnare. He is conflicted, and we can see it in his eyes and the small gestures of his hands. It’s a truly masterful performance.
Of course, no one person can carry an entire film by themselves. Fortunately, Bryan Cranston had a few quality players he could call off the bench for help. John Leguizamo plays his partner Emir Abreu, a reckless sort who first connects Mazur with the Colombians. His performance was solid as he played just below the line of being too devil-may-care. When things go sideways, he did a nice job of showing the fear behind the bravado. Diane Kruger was serviceable as a rookie agent playing Robert Mazur’s fake fiancee, but, truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll ever see her beyond being Nicholas Cage’s girlfriend in National Treasure. This is supposed to be her first mission, yet she pulls it off with such aplomb that it actually decreased my concern for the character. On the other hand, Benjamin Bratt plays drug lord Roberto Alcaino with just the right touch of humanity. You feel that he is at the core still a good man, and I found myself becoming very endeared with him and his family to the point where Mazur’s efforts to lock him up actually feel more like a betrayal than the proper thing to do.
What I wasn’t endeared by was some of the choices made by the director, Brad Furman. For a film set in the 1980s, it sure was working hard to feel like the 1970s. The cinematography was dark, the color palette full of drab hues. Perhaps this was intended to be evocative of the film’s subject matter, but it sure didn’t help make the lifestyle of the drug lords seem very aspirational. The soundtrack did nothing to contribute to either creating a time or a tone. I found the pacing to be very methodical at best; I was actually surprised that the running time was only a smidge over two hours. It seemed at least a half-hour longer. Structurally, the lack of a strong endnote climax left me feeling I had seen the first two-thirds of what could have been a much better film. I never felt a sense that the story was gaining speed towards a distinct destination, which prevented any sort of tension being created in the viewer.
Bottom line, for the discerning viewer who enjoys seeing an actor at the height of his/her craft, the performance of Bryan Cranston elevates this film into a fine little gem. For those who prefer more action and suspense in their undercover movies, you may want to wait for The Departed to make its rounds on HBO Go again.