“Chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change.”
That’s one of the most iconic lines from Breaking Bad and it pretty much sums up Bryan Cranston’s phenomenal acting career. After years of primarily being seen as a sitcom actor, he redefined his career as Walter White, a modest teacher turned meth kingpin torn between power and family. In The Infiltrator, Cranston plays another conflicted man living a double life. This time, however, Cranston’s character is on the law’s side, attempting to take down Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering organization. So basically, it’s Heisenberg vs. Escobar.
So basically, it’s Heisenberg vs. Escobar.
Well actually, the infamous Columbian drug lord is barely in the movie. However, almost every major character here is connected to Escobar in some way. Cranston is great as always as Robert Mazur, an undercover agent for the U.S. Customs Service. Mazur could’ve retired a long time ago and settled down with his family. Yet, he doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase, “I’m getting too old for this s#&%.” Mazur lands the roll of a lifetime when he’s tasked with following Escobar’s trail of dirty money. Under the alias of Bob Musella, Mazur infiltrates the biggest cartel in history and helps to nail the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
Just as Cranston is like a chameleon on screen, the same can be about Mazur. In the blink of an eye, this man can go from being a loving husband to a ruthless monster. While Mazur never breaks character as Bob Musella, there’s always an underlying feeling of dread in The Infiltrator. By making even the tiniest mistake, Mazur’s cover could be blown. Aside from being in constant danger, Mazur’s job only becomes more complicated when he starts to develop close friendships with major cartel players, most notably Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino. Cranston is given numerous notes to play and he hits them all out of the park in his most multi-layered film performance to date.
Cranston is given numerous notes to play and he hits them all out of the park in his most multi-layered film performance to date.
In addition to Cranston, John Leguizamo turns in strong work as Emir Abreu, a fellow undercover agent who maybe enjoys his work too much. Diane Kruger also gives one of her finest performances as Kathy Ertz, a rookie undercover agent who must play the role Bob Musella’s fiancé. This doesn’t sit well with Mazur’s real life longsuffering wife (Juliet Aubrey), although nothing overtly sexual ever occurs between Kathy and Robert. At times The Infiltrator juggles one too many characters, making it difficult to keep track of everyone involved. On the whole, though, the film keeps the focus on Mazur and delivers an intriguing character study.
This is certainly a fascinating true story, although Brad Furman’s film can feel a little familiar. The Infiltrator is kind of like Breaking Bad meets Narcos, with elements of The Americans and Homeland too. It also calls to mind various movies, from Sicario to The Departed. The Infiltrator isn’t as absorbing as any of the latter shows or films, as it can be overstuffed and by-the-numbers. Thanks to the sharp direction, several genuinely tense moments, and of course Cranston, though, it’s well worth looking into.