He’s one of those actors cursed to be tied forever to a single roll: in his case Walter White of Breaking Bad.
And as Walter White, he’s brilliant. Or to put it a better way, Walter White, as embodied by Bryan Cranston, is epic. Somehow, by the alchemy of narrative, Walter White is larger and more vibrant, more thrilling than anything else Mr. Cranston can conjure up.
In that sense Walter White becomes a kind of language that is employed through Mr. Cranston; the signs of Walter White haunt the subsequent performances. Where as Walter White is the dopy-dad as drug lord, Mr. Cranston’s Dalton Trumbo (Trumbo) is the family man as black listed communist. And In The Infiltrator, he again plays the regular dad, but this time as the undercover cop infiltrating the notorious drug cartel of Pablo Escobar.
All roles that allow those poor dopy dads dreaming of a mid-life crisis to exercise their fantasies: so that’s what it’s like to be a family-man meth-dealer.
But whereas Breaking Bad trafficked effortlessly in that tension between vanilla banality and crime, suburban boredom and murder, these subsequent movies just traffic in the vanilla part. It’s as if Mr. Cranston (and the filmmakers) are relying on Walter White to come and rescue the movie.
And he does no such thing. No matter how brooding and thinky Mr Cranston looks in The Infiltrator I at no point thought that he was actually thinking. Walter White gave us broody looks in which we could intuit the crux of the series: how will he deploy deceit and bloodshed to prolong and sustain his white mediocre suburban life.
There are no such questions in The Infiltrator. Without Walter, Mr Cranston is just rather dull. And no matter the gunfire, the betrayal, car crashes and mob brutality, none of it is ever dramatic; even though it is “based on a true story” it is at all times contrived to the point of being arbitrary.
Diane Kruger likewise stars in The Infiltrator as an appeal and allusion to a greater cinematic moment: that of her role in Inglourious Basterds. That twenty-minute scene in the Nazi bier hall in which she and Michael Fassbender are impersonating Nazis has more tension, more drama, more terror than this movie’s 127 minutes ever dream of, even in the worst dad-life crisis.