American Made, 2017.
Directed by Doug Liman.
Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, E. Roger Mitchell, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda, Benito Martinez, Caleb Landry Jones, and Jayma Mays.
A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.
There’s an unshakeable feeling that Tom Cruise is actually trying in American Made, Doug Liman’s derivative if not entertaining Goodfellas-lite comic thriller. Cruise has been the movie star for the past two decades, but his on-screen persona only exists as a parallel to Cruise as the movie star. Few risks are taken, so American Made, albeit steeped in cliché, is a rather welcome detour away from the glamour and stunts of the monolithic blockbusters he finds comfort in.
It’s all too easy to forget his 1-2-3-4 punch of The Last Samurai, Collateral, War of the Worlds, and Mission: Impossible III between 2003 and 2006. So Cruise clearly is an adept actor, and as shown in Tropic Thunder, he has the chops for comedy.
Liman has a clear understanding of Cruise as both a movie star and as a charismatic force and he turns everything up to 11. That asymmetrical grin dominates the screen, Cruise appears in every moment, he even brings with him a Southern twang that somehow maintains convincing.
Cruise stars as Barry Seal, a pilot who finds himself under the employment of Monty Schafer (Domnhall Gleeson) and the CIA, only to find himself in the murky waters of working as Pablo Escobar’s key drug runner.
There’s little more to it than nostalgia and Cruise. Every frame is packed with big collars, burnt oranges and Cruise smirking as only Cruise can. Shots of him gleefully flying between South America and Louisiana – naturally – bring to mind Maverick, if he had a hankering for cocaine and brown leather, whilst a moment late on in which Barry finds himself under the control of the law, plays out more like a real life encounter with Cruise himself.
A narrative device introduced 10 minutes in frames the film awkwardly as a series of flashbacks and exists only for brief respites and a voiceover that practically screams, “this fucking happened, can you believe it, this shit happened.” Even as it lags and tries desperately to reaffirm the fact that “this really fucking happened,” it’s never less than entertaining.
But the film is never anything but Tom Cruise. Supporting characters have a lifeless quality to them, flimsy and existing only as devices for exposition. Dommhall Gleeson may be a great screen presence, but he’s given little meat to chew on, appearing every so often to further the plot and exude further smugness. The lingering smugness of the whole project does begin to stink. Every character is as smug as the next and that becomes increasingly tired.
Smugness aside – oh, so much smugness – the film romps along at a frankly silly pace, and be it for a mid film dip, never urrs towards the dull. There may be few moments of originality and the film may exist only as a vehicle for Cruise’s titanic charisma and toothy grin, but it’s a genuinely good time and if you’re going to copy from films gone before, at least do it well, of which it certainly does.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★