In a summer full of superheroes and talking animals, Bryan Cranston's new film The Infiltrator isn't what you'd expect to find in the theater. However, it is exactly what you'd expect to find Bryan Cranston doing.
Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur. He's a U.S. Customs agent in South Florida tasked with stopping the illegal drug trade that used the area as its primary port in the mid-1980s. Along with a new partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), Mazur goes undercover in an attempt to track the financial institutions that are complicit in the illegal drug business in order to use them to "get to the bad guys." Robert Mazur becomes Bob Musella, a money launderer, and infiltrates (see what I did there) the cartels in order to get the evidence he needs to take them all down. Of course, this is a 1980 drug cartel, so if they figure out he's playing them, he'll be very dead, very quickly.
The plot synopsis likely sounds like something you've heard before. This is because you have. While The Infiltrator might be based on a true story, it has a plot very similar to many fictional tales revolving around undercover cops and drug dealers. The cop that does it by the book with the partner who threw the book out the window? Check. The undercover cop who might be getting a little too close to the criminals he's trying to bust? Check. The wife at home who wants him to quit before he ends up dead? Yup. Bring your "police movie trope" bingo card to The Infiltrator and you won't even need the free space to win before act one is over.
Of course, if there is one thing that The Infiltrator has which the rest of the genre is missing, it's Bryan Cranston. While he's on the opposite side of the drug business from his Breaking Bad character, the two still have quite a bit in common. Both have dangerous jobs, and families they're trying to keep protected from it. Both of these jobs involve hanging out with drug dealers. Both of them really like their jobs. Walter White is certainly a part of Cranston here, even if this new version had a badge. And this is very much the Bryan Cranston show. John Leguizamo's character takes the middle of the movie off entirely, Bob's fake finance, played very well by Diane Kruger, doesn't show up until just before that point. The most nuanced character in the film, Benjamin Bratt as cartel distributor Roberto Alcano is also underutilized. He's the "bad guy" that Bob is trying to get to, only it turns out he's not so bad a guy. He's a businessman with a wife and a family and hopes and dreams and concerns about the future. He's not the villain the drug dealers were supposed to be in the 80s. He's an opportunist, to be sure, but this was the 80s, who wasn't?
To be sure, The Infiltrator has some great moments of tension and suspense. What's unfortunate is that those great moments are few and far between. The Infiltrator builds incredibly slowly. For nearly the entire first half of the movie, Robert Mazur is dealing with corrupt bankers, not drug dealers. The worst thing they can do to the undercover agent is refuse to cash his check. There's no suspense or fear here. It's not until much later in the movie, when Bob is having dinner with his actual wife and one of the cartel members recognizes his favorite money launderer, that you start to feel some real tension. From there, the drama does pick up, but it's still uneven, supplying a series of suspenseful moments without having the tension consistently amp up between them. We never again feel that Bob's family, who we're supposed to care about it in any real danger. For the most part, they only seem to be there to add to the list of tropes.
If all of this gives you a theory about where The Infiltrator will end, you're almost certainly correct. It goes exactly there, with little concern that there will be any drama because there isn't any. Two hours later, and about twenty minutes too late, The Infiltrator wraps up in a nice little bow. If you're in desperate need for a fix of either Bryan Cranston, or undercover cop movies, The Infiltrator will scratch that itch, but you'll be needing to visit your dealer again before too long.