Bryan Cranston’s “Infiltrator”: Just Say No?
I was talking with my former Entertainment Weekly colleague Jennifer Keishin Armstrong about her new book Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything when the topic of Jason Alexander’s lackluster post-Seinfeld career came up. “He needs to do a gritty cable drama—then maybe he could break out,” she said. “He needs to pull a Cranston.”
I immediately knew what she meant: Bryan Cranston, once known only as hapless dad Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, reinvented himself as a powerhouse dramatic actor with his tour de force as milquetoast science teacher-turned-murderous meth kingpin Walter White on Breaking Bad. Without that role, Cranston would’ve never been cast in the lead role of the new film The Infiltrator as Robert Mazur, a federal agent who went undercover in the Medellin cartel during the “Just Say No” Reagan Era. One can only wish Cranston had just said no to this script.
It’s not terrible. The plot gets murky and convoluted, but individual scenes (like one tense sequence in which Mazur’s cover is almost blown during an anniversary dinner with his wife) crackle with life, and Cranston is never less than compelling. The supporting cast—especially John Leguizamo as Mazur’s loose-cannon coworker and The Bridge‘s Diane Kruger as a fellow agent who poses as Mazur’s fiancee—is solid.
But it’s impossible not to measure The Infiltrator against Breaking Bad. They’re both stories about seemingly meek guys (Mazur started out as an accountant) who assume a bad-ass persona after getting involved with the narcotics trade. While it’s undeniably an apples-to-oranges comparison—Bad ran for six seasons, The Infiltrator runs just over two hours—you’re still left wanting more when the movie is over.
Working from a script by his mother, Ellen Brown Furman, director Brad Furman never quite gets inside Mazur’s head to explain why he’d forgo a full retirement package to risk his family’s life by attempting to bring down Pablo Escobar’s evil empire. The Infiltrator is a huge improvement on the younger Furman’s last film, Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake’s instantly forgettable Runner, Runner. But it’s still not as effortlessly entertaining as his breakout directorial effort, The Lincoln Lawyer.
As for Cranston, The Infiltrator marks a step up from his overrated and inexplicably Oscar-nominated caricature in Trumbo, but it’s nowhere near the the same league as his transformative turn as LBJ in All the Way, which won him a Tony and will no doubt win him an Emmy (his fifth!) for the HBO film version. The Infiltrator is more like Half the Way. It’s Breaking Meh.