**1/2 stars (out of four)
In the new film The Infiltrator (based on a true story), Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur, a Customs agent who goes undercover as a money launderer to disrupt the operations of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. He’s aided by a partner (John Leguizamo), a fake fiancee (Diane Kruger), and a paroled criminal posing as a bodyguard (Joseph Gilgun).
Much of the plot mechanics will seem familiar to movie buffs who’ve seen films about undercover work - an officer’s strained marriage, the fear of being found out, the struggle to blend in with criminals without losing your soul. The Infiltrator doesn’t do anything poorly, but it doesn’t resonate as strongly as genre standouts like Donnie Brasco and Breach did. Those two films derived much of their power from the conflicted nature of the work - if you spend enough time ingratiating yourself to people, it becomes hard not to think of them as friends and feel some guilt over betraying them. In The Infiltrator’s second hour, Cranston befriends a high ranking Escobar lieutenant (Benjamin Bratt) and his family. But he’s introduced too late for the ultimate betrayal to have much emotional weight, even though the wedding finale is effectively staged.
Other flaws include the fact that Cranston’s wife (Juliet Aubrey) never registers as more than a cliche and Leguizamo’s character disappears for long stretches in the second half. An unnecessary (and completely fictional) scene involving an assassination Cranston witnesses could’ve been excised entirely. But Cranston provides the film with a strong center, and there are some effectively tense scenes.
Generally diverting but not riveting, The Infiltrator is the type of the film that fans of the genre might enjoy watching on cable on a lazy Sunday, even if it may not be worth $10 at the theater.