There’s a lot about Breaking Bad which is astonishing, but in the early going, one of the most surprising things about it was that Bryan Cranston was such a talented dramatic actor. Most of us had known him as an overwhelmed dad in Malcolm in the Middle, and now here he was as an anti-hero, responding to being overwhelmed in ways which were just not funny at all.
Which moved Cranston into the world of being able to open movies all on his own instead of being just another part of the backdrop of talented character actors propping up the star. And that, my child, is how we got Bryan Cranston producing and starring in The Infiltrator.
How did that work out? Well, the first thing to say is that it’s pretty hard to maintain suspense in a movie based on the autobiography of the main character. And in a movie where the whole point is the white knuckle tension of whether the infiltrator is going to get himself schwacked by the bad guys, you’ve got one foot nailed to the floor when the audience knows that the infiltrator lasted long enough to write a memoir.
The more interesting movie, in that circumstance, is to show the emotional conflict the infiltrator feels when he’s getting to know people who he’s going to screw over at the end of the engagement. The back end of the movie feels like the team realised that was the whole point, but too late to land it properly. A lot of time has gone into the setup, and into trying to get us to like Robert Mazur as a person, and there hasn’t been enough time to get us to like the people he’s setting up for a fall. Although, looking at most of them, enough time may not exist. They’re pretty horrible people. If a piano fell on them, your thoughts would be on whether the piano could be repaired.
But in the end, it’s a Brian Cranston movie. The supporting cast is good , but it’s a star vehicle for an unlikely star. Walter White was a bad guy, and Robert Mazur was kind of a good guy, so the question in my mind was how Cranston would show us a good guy.
Weirdly, his good guy was very like his bad guy; a driven, smart guy who lets everyone around him down while trying to make a success of his involvement in the drug trade. Somehow, what was convincing and gripping in an anti-hero wound up much less compelling in a hero, if only because the real life Robert Mazur must have been a much more charming and plausible man than Cranston’s nervy interpretation. It’s not a terrible movie, but in a world where Narcos has given us a much deeper view of the moral insanity of the war on Pablo Escobar, and Breaking Bad has shown us what Bryan Cranston can do in building a character, it would have been much better to take it to TV and give it the room to work.