Hot Take: Great performances, interesting story but we’ve kinda sorta seen it before. Good but too “by-the-numbers” to be great.
Bryan Cranston is a supreme talent. For the most part, it’s his portrayal of Walter White in Breaking Bad that we remember him for. Although his other TV role — as Malcolm’s dad in Malcolm in the Middle — was also an impressive role. In movies, Cranston has taken on bit roles more than anything. Up until last year’s Trumbo — a role which garnered Cranston an Academy Award nomination — Cranston didn’t land too many starring film roles. In The Infiltrator, Cranston is back in the starring role as Robert Mazur and again, Cranston turns in a marvelous performance.
It isn’t just Cranston who shines in their role as the entire cast delivers. From John Leguizamo to Diane Kruger and everyone in between, it’s hard to find a subpar performance. The Infiltrator is one of the best films as far as acting goes in 2016. The casting is spot on and even though some actors are typecast in very familiar roles, like Benjamin Bratt as Pablo Escobar’s top lieutenant Robert Alcaino, the roles are authentic enough to overcome some of the built in criticism that comes from casting an actor in an all too familiar role.
As for the movie itself, The Infiltrator has a lot to overcome. Based on the true story of Robert Mazur, an undercover U.S. Customs agent who infiltrates the Escobar drug cartel and becomes their chief money launderer in the United States in an effort to bring down Escobar, key members of his organization and the banks willing to get their hands dirty, the film enters an oversaturated genre. Every year, there are at least a half dozen of these types of films to receive a green light. It makes it even tougher for a film to stand out above the rest.
This is where The Infiltrator loses some of its luster. Amongst its peers, the film feels very familiar in the way the story unfolds despite the “based on a true story” angle and the above average acting. The movie feels formulaic and while it stands out above your standard summer fare — a particularly smart release date choice — it doesn’t when compared to previous movies of the genre. Director Brad Furman smartly keeps Cranston’s performance as a focal point which helps carry the film past its generic feel but because of the “by the numbers” telling of the story, the film is very good but not great.
Moviegoers looking for a film loaded with great performances and a compelling premise who won’t mind the familiar feel that makes it vulnerable to comparisons to other films with similar subject matter, many similarly based on a true story or, at the very least, derived from true events, won’t be disappointed in The Infiltrator. For those who may be suffering a little from genre fatigue, The Infiltrator might not find its way past the comparisons of other more uniquely told tales of the drug world. If you feel you’re in that group, you’ll still be likely to find it serviceable and the viewing is worth it for Cranston alone.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Here’s a Surprise — Bryan Cranston
It’s hard to imagine how The Infiltrator looks without him as Robert Mazur/Bob Musella. The movie has received a limited wide release to about 1,600 theaters yet it’s likely without Cranston and his performance, this film might have never made it out of New York and Los Angeles.
- The Soundtrack
Like many other films set in previous decades, The Infiltrator uses its soundtrack to its advantage to set the mood of the time period. While the film is more subtle when it comes to wardrobe, the 80s music present, including The Violent Femmes, Curtis Mayfield, The Who, Rush and Leonard Cohen, is one of the more impressive of the year and sets the tone for the film.
- The Co-Mingling of Mazur & Musella
Cranston’s character has his real life persona and his undercover alias. When the two lives cross paths in the film, this sets up for some of the movie’s better moments. Some have proven to be fabricated but it is only based on a true story, after all.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- It’s All Too Familiar
It’s based on a true story so we should know where it’s going so it might be unfair to call The Infiltrator predictable. However, the storytelling isn’t anything original and a lot of times it feels like we are settling for a little bit of the same old, same old.
- What’s My Age Again?
Cranston is perfect for the part so maybe there had to be some manipulation of the Mazur timeline for him to work in the role but Cranston is 60 and while Mazur’s age isn’t known, there’s no way he’s in his 90s now so the ages just don’t match up to the real life counterpart.