Bryan Cranston goes Donnie Brasco in this 80s-set crime thriller.
Bob Mazur (Cranston) is an unassuming U.S. Customs agent with wife Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey) and two kids. He’s also undercover as Bob Musella, a flash, ingratiating money launderer for the Columbian mob. While Cranston specializes in roles with just such a dichotomy — the four Emmys he won on Breaking Bad testify to this — Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator, besides sounding like a surreptitious new sex toy, chooses to focus instead on what it means to build a relationship with someone for the express purpose of betraying them.
Musella’s ultimate target may be the legendary drug kingpin Pablo Escobar — who, between this and Narcos seems to be experiencing a new burst of infamy — and the BCCI, the genteel but unscrupulous private bank that enables the bad guys to operate, but first he’ll have to deal with a coterie of psychos and hangers-on; including the white-suited, sexually volatile Ospina (Yul Vazquez) and suave family man, drug trafficker — and genuine friend? — Robert Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). The focus here is on the cash and not the coke.
Ellen Brown Furman’s screenplay hints at criminality in Musella’s own family, like his property-owning Aunt Vicky (Olympia Dukakis), and a burst of humiliating in-character violence that literally takes the cake over Public Enemy, but this is no Sicario: the moral ambiguity doesn’t get further than some pontificating on the hypocrisy of the Just Say No Administration. We’re left in no doubt who are the good guys. Voodoo executions and motorbike assassinations leave no doubt exactly who the bad guys are; even if they are occasionally quite personable.
The craggy Cranston is, as always, intensely watchable, though a rapid succession of British character actors — Daniel Mays as an Italian-American crook, an ambiguously accented Joe Gilgun, Jason Isaacs as a disheveled lawyer, etc. — is somewhat distracting. John Leguizamo and Diane Kruger do their job as Musella’s freewheeling partner and high-flying “fiancée”, but Amy Ryan is wasted as their stereotypically plainspoken (presumably chain-smoking/beer-swilling) boss. Just to pile on the cliches, it’s supposed to be Musella’s last job, too.
The Infiltrator never delves below the surface of why Musella chooses to do such a job, or why he’s so reluctant to retire; or any real psychological underpinnings. For a film about a guy shaking the hands and lying to the faces of some of the most dangerous men on the planet, wearing a wire that might combust on his chest, carrying a suitcase recorder that could easily be discovered, there’s no prolonged tension. Coasting by on a talented cast, muggy visuals, classic soundtrack, and entertaining scenes, it’s a smooth ride; but there’s no chemistry to it.