Brian Cranston will probably be remembered as one of the great American actors. Up there with Mitchum, Cotten, Welles, Brando, etc. He isn’t much of a star. There’s a big difference between an actor, a real actor, and a star. Sometimes they’re both. Brad Pitt is probably both. Bogart was both. But I highly doubt Cranston will be one of those. He’s simply not glamorous in any way. This sounds like a bad thing but I mean it as a compliment.
Cranston is just very real and deeply convincing. His emotions just pour forth onto the screen, whether it’s little or big. Breaking Bad will probably always be what defines him. But pretty much everything he does is memorable. His character on Seinfeld is highly memorable. Some of that is the writing (he’s been blessed with amazing writing) but mostly it’s him. Whether he needs to be funny, clueless, furious, he is that thing.
And this film brings him back to BB territory because he has to do the false face. Except it’s reversed in this film. He gets to play the lying good guy instead of the lying bad guy. And unfortunately the film is…uneven. The cast is amazing all around. There are no weak performances but there are weak lines. There are those perfunctory “you for my back?” screaming moments that these sorts of films always have. And more than once it is not very clear what is happening in the actual plot.
Film is certainly not an actor’s medium. It is a medium for story telling (the writer) and photography. Bad actors rarely ruin a truly great film. In fact often they add to the believability because most people we know are not very convincing or interesting to watch. They are just regular folks. Double Indemnity had an amazing example of this in the character of the Mr Norton. He is basically the highest level Exec we meet (he might be the owner of the insurance company, I can’t remember) and the actor portraying him is awful. He’s completely wooden. But it works extremely well for his character and highlights Edward Robinson’s highly underrated acting ability.
In any case I bring all that up to say that Cranston is the very rare exception to the rule. He is what makes this movie good. His performance is simply stellar and keeps the viewer interested throughout.