Breaking Bad was the turning point of Bryan Cranston’s career, the moment when he went from goofy Malcolm in the Middle sitcom dad to masculine antihero. It’s a role that will most likely define Cranston for the rest of his career, and in his latest film, The Infiltrator, it’s impossible to not see his performance through the lens of Walter White.
The Infiltrator is a true story, based on the book by Robert Mazur, a U.S. customs special agent who went undercover in the 1980s to expose big banks working with Colombian drug cartels to launder money. Cranston plays two Bobs: Bob Mazur is a modest Miami dad with a wife and two kids, and Bob Musella is a flashy mob money launderer with a glamorous blonde fiancée draped in fur and jewels.
The line between crime and justice is constantly blurred in The Infiltrator, and in the life of Bob, who forms deep bonds with the movers and shakers in this lavish cartel world, a business based on trust, loyalty and bloody justice. It’s “one last job” for Bob, whose wife begins to wonder why he decided to take on this high-risk mission when he was eligible for retirement.
Even his partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), questions his motivations. Emir is up front about his reasons: he loves the work, it’s his drug of choice. He slimes around in the dank, sweaty underground, while Bob enjoys the upper-class spoils of cartel life, the nightclubs and mansions and private jets. Eventually, Mazur cops to the appeal. “I’m going to miss Bob Musella,” he admits, saying goodbye to his alter ego.
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It’s Cranston’s performance (and Leguizamo’s) that propels the film, as well as a sleek, silvery Benjamin Bratt as a cartel operator with whom Bob forms a deep friendship he ultimately must betray. But there are times when The Infiltrator feels like a cut-rate copy of every 1980s Miami drug movie. An early montage of undercover operations is paired with Curtis Mayfield’s Pusherman, which has been the all-too-obvious choice ever since it appeared in Super Fly.
Directed by Brad Furman, the film’s style is a bit overwrought. The images are layered with grain and saturated color to evoke a vintage aesthetic, but at times the color palette abruptly shifts to a drastically desaturated look, with no discernible storytelling motivation.
The Infiltrator rides on Cranston’s abilities to so ably and sensitively portray the average American man torn between his double life — the man who wants both lives. The story itself often seems outlandish and, if it weren’t based on a true one, would feel unrealistic and contrived. That unbelievable aspect is a large part of the appeal of The Infiltrator, which would otherwise seem like just another generic drug-world fable.
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material. 2:07. Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.