Review: American Made
Late period Tom Cruise is really interesting. The actor is well into his 50s, has been a movie star for over three decades, and has been a part of many iconic films and franchises. Tom Cruise as a star personality is bigger than his movies, with the exception of the Mission: Impossible series. While Tom Cruise has mostly done action films like Edge of Tomorrow, The Mummy, and the Jack Reacher series recently, it’s interesting when he does something different. And that’s the case with the high-octane, wildly entertaining American Made.
Helmed by Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman, American Made is based on the true story of Barry Seal, a commercial pilot who becomes a drug smuggler for the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s and an informant for the DEA. The film was written by Gary Spinelli, and proudly wears its offhand historical accuracy on its sleeve. Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, and Caleb Landry Jones co-star. The film was shot by Cesar Charlone (City of God), with a score by Christopher Beck (Ant-Man) and editing by Saar Klein, Andrew Mondshein, and Dylan Tichenor.
American Made is another entry into the genre of “corrupt American dream,” where normal but talented Americans get involved with criminal enterprises, get rich, then have everything taken away. The inspiration from Scorsese’s work like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street, plus films like American Hustle, is clear. American Made positions itself as “too crazy not to be true,” using comedy and breaking the fourth wall to smooth over some of the more implausible scenes. It doesn’t quite go as completely bananas as The Wolf of Wall Street per se, but its stranger than fiction vibe is effective.
The majority of the credit should go to Tom Cruise however, who is able to make the decidedly unconventional script and character into something of a livewire. He’s just off-kilter enough but also an everyman and that serves the picture well, Cruise’s endless energy and enthusiasm make the film continuously watchable. While Tom Cruise is always the lead, he usually features a leading lady with a commanding screen presence of her own like Emily Blunt, Rosamund Pike, Rebecca Ferguson, and Cobie Smulders. Unfortunately here, Sarah Wright doesn’t have much to do besides support Tom Cruise. Gleeson and Jones are both quite good except the script doesn’t give them much room to eke out full characters. Many of the supporting players don’t get enough screentime to make the film feel like a full universe.
Doug Liman can be a sharp filmmaker especially when it comes to action scenes and spatial relationships. After all, his work on The Bourne Identity changed action filmmaking forever. Unfortunately he struggles here with the satire of the American dream, American Made is funny, with some inventive sight gags but the point seems to be a bit clichéd. Movies like this are hard to make fresh because the rise and fall plot has been done so many times and you need a strong character and/or performance to anchor it. Tom Cruise does provide that but I found the moments when the film tries to get serious hard to swallow. Whatever compelled Doug Liman to make this film seems a bit lost because the film seems redundant (even its title is groan-worthy).
That’s not to say America Made isn’t entertaining. This is one crowd-pleasing movie, with a high wattage star performance, and enough charm, humor and quickness to really make it soar. The action scenes are very exciting, especially the flying sequences and the montages. It has a really cool look, a bit grainy to match the 1980s setting and some unique production design. The editing is frenetic, which is to be expected in a movie like this. Doug Liman inserts a lot of footage from Reagan’s film appearances and presidential addresses for comedic effect.
Overall, the film is goofy in a good way, even if the ironic winks don’t always work. American Made is a pretty solid flick with a standout performance from Tom Cruise. It can be redundant but there are many elements that are entertaining and surprising.