The Infiltrator Yul Vazquez Bryan Cranston

Having won fame and acclaim playing a chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston is again up to his neck in the deadly machinations of the drug trade in the fact-based crime thriller The Infiltrator. This time, however, his character is on the right side of the law.

In the mid-1980s, Robert Mazur is a straight-arrow US customs agent who goes deep undercover posing as a sleazy, money-laundering businessman in order to infiltrate Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s criminal network.

The Infiltrator Diane Kruger Bryan Cranston

At home, Mazur is a straitlaced family man, devoted to his wife (Juliet Aubrey) and children. Yet to pull off the deception he has to masquerade as a flashy high roller called Bob Musella. To aid the pretence, beautiful rookie agent Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) takes the role of his trophy fiancée: she’s fake; the furs are real. It’s a risky pose to maintain. One wrong word, one slip, and they could both end up dead.

The set-up couldn’t be better primed for tension, but director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) doesn’t supply as much clammy suspense as you might hope. True, there’s a chilling scene in which Mazur/Musella undergoes a voodoo lie-detector test – ‘an audition’, his cartel contact explains after he survives the ordeal.

The Infiltrator Bryan Cranston

And there are tense moments, too, involving Mazur’s livewire customs sidekick, Emir Ebreu, played with hair-trigger volatility by John Leguizamo. While Mazur and Kathy’s befriending of Escobar’s top lieutenant, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), and his wife (Room in Rome’s Elena Anaya), introduces an additional layer of apprehension.

So it’s a surprise that the story fails to exert a truly powerful grip. Stodgy plotting and uneven pacing is partly to blame, but the film’s biggest disappointment is that it doesn’t probe deeply enough into the mission’s psychological costs to allow Cranston to be at his very best.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 127 mins. Director Brad Furman

The Infiltrator gets a UK release on 16 September.