Bryan Cranston’s latest vehicle sees him once again embroiled in the illegal drug trade, although this time on the legal side of the law.
A real-life tale of money-laundering and undercover agents, The Infiltrator stars Cranston as Robert Mazur, a US Customs officer who realises that the key to winning the drug war raging in 1980s Miami is following the money to the shady figures at the top of Pablo Escobar’s criminal empire. In order to do this, Mazur poses as crooked tycoon Bob Musella, launders colossal sums of cash for the smugglers, and thus immerses himself in their dangerous world.
With a script adapted from Mazur’s own memoir, one can forgive the fairly routine conceit of the movie and even the collection of genre clichés that bob worryingly near to the surface in the film’s opening beats. In our introduction to Mazur we see him offered a cushy retirement package which he turns down in favour of ‘one last job’, and a family member offers him the helpful advice ‘Don’t be Bobby loser, be Bobby somebody’. Despite these clanging notes, the film comes into its own once Cranston/Mazur/Musella goes undercover and the pressure begins to build.
Without wanting to boil the film down to Cranston’s performance, it deserves special attention. The ‘easy-going-family-man-turned-criminal’ is a part we have seen him play before with aplomb, and here it is as confident and accomplished as you would expect. His chameleonic on-screen persona mirrors his prodigious real-world acting skill and in much the same way that the film is carried by his central performance, the Customs operation in the movie relies on a virtuoso turn by Mazur, and on both counts Cranston delivers.
Thanks to his psychotic energy, the most effective shock in the movie comes from Mazur’s aggressive introduction of a waiter’s face to a chocolate cake, and this in a film punctuated by startling flashes of violence and gouts of blood. With a plot that is ultimately about acting, it would be remiss to overlook the supporting performances, specifically those of Diane Kruger as Kathy Ertz and Benjamin Bratt as drug lord Roberto Alcaino. Kruger is effortlessly charming and smart as Mazur’s faux-fiancée while Bratt plays possibly the most likeable drug smuggler on film, smooth and charismatic whenever he is on screen and, much like Cranston, lends personality and humour to an unsympathetic character.
The Infiltrator works in such a way that you do not realise it has you gripped until it is too late, and you notice that you are holding your breath through seemingly mundane scenes of kitchen chit-chat. The quality of the acting is sufficient to make you love, hate or fear the appropriate characters and by the explosive finale your stomach should be thoroughly knotted. It deserves watching if only to remind yourself that Bryan Cranston is a true film star.
Words by Fraser Kay