-A messy crime film that’s anchored by the reliable Bryan Cranston.

What’s interesting about the new Cranston crime vehicle The Infiltrator is that he’s playing a character that is both eerily similar and also substantively different than his “Breaking Bad” moniker Walter White.

This time, Cranston’s on the other side of the aisle, still playing a two-faced family man in disguise, but now in the business of bringing down the drug cartel, not owning it.

I’m pretty sure he’s still the one who knocks.

He (agent Robert Mazur) realizes early on that chasing the criminals only gets Customs so far, and devises a plan (with the help of the deliriously intense John Leguizamo as Emir) to chase the money instead. Mazur poses as ‘Bob Musella’ a soon-to-be-wed small business owner who is the ultimate money launderer. He sees large scale investments going into the bank accounts of illegitimate businesses at the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and convinces many of the drug lords to use him instead, filtering their money through his company into smaller deposits that fly under the radar. He has a good sales pitch that’s grounded in fact, and inserts himself directly into the game along with Emir, dealing with Benjamin Bratt’s Roberto Alcaino most notably.

This plot summary seems pretty simple, but the film has a hard time making it that way. So many small-scale criminal players are introduced at such a rapid volume that the main plot structure does become slightly hard to follow. If you’re an experienced viewer of crime films or modern TV (like ‘Breaking Bad’), you may be able to piece together the clues, like I did, to realize Mazur/Musella’s motivations. To others, it may not come that easily, and you may leave the film in a frenzy of confusion, knowing the ending and why it happened, but pretty unclear on how we got there.

It seems that director Brad Furman, working on a screenplay from his mother of all people, was really intent on getting all of the big criminal players screen time to pay homage to Mazur’s book about his experiences. The problem is, we only have so much screen time, and a lot of the plot centered around the actions and moving parts of this under cover operation seem pretty hazy. The ending makes perfect sense, and so do the context clues because this film is nothing substantially new, but the execution on the intricate detail leaves a bit to be desired.

Despite this, I did appreciate the film’s throwback noir tone, using a classic actor in Cranston to deliver a very grounded performance. The one scene that every review talks about involves him switching from middle aged family man (his wife is played by Juliet Aubrey) to ruthless criminal over an unfortunate scenario revolving around an anniversary cake shows Cranston’s ability to play a layered character. Like Breaking Bad, he’s a man who does what he does in order to continue to feel alive. He loves being undercover and playing his part, he even plays his role a little bit too close to his own chest at times, but he can still shut it off and be himself as well. Add in a fiancee in the undercover world (Diane Kruger) and an overbearing boss (Amy Ryan), and we’re left with a tricky world for Mazur to navigate.

Luckily, Cranston is game, and sells the tone of the film with a classic flair. He understands the kind of throwback film that he’s acting in, and manages to hoist up a film with a murky plot structure in order to make it worth recommending.

3 stars

 

The Infiltrator (2016)

Genre: Crime/Thriller

Director: Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer, Runner Runner)

Starring: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, and Juliet Aubrey

RT Score: 64%

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