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.
Antiheroes require an actor that radiates charisma, so it’s no shock that Tom Cruise (reunited with Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman) makes for a likable drug runner, gun smuggler, and greedy scumbag whose financial thirst cannot be quenched. It’s not even long into American Made where renowned pilot Barry Seal (the film is a loose adaptation of the man’s criminal wrongdoings) states in one of his monologues (accomplished by VHS recordings detailing everything that went on during the various stages of his illegal activities) “Who knew having too much money would ever become a problem”. It’s easy to loathe his gluttonous ambition, but goddamnit it’s impossible to not admire someone living the American dream.
Barry clearly has a desire for adrenaline-pumping thrills, as the CIA initially approaches him for aerial reconnaissance over Central America due to both his piloting and cigar smuggling skills. Beginning in the late 70s, American Made isn’t even into the following decade yet before he is making Colombian contacts that would go on to be known as the Medellín Cartel, running cocaine into Miami drop-off points. The one-man job swiftly transitions into a financially lucrative, complex multi-man job that sees Barry raking in the big bucks, laundering money in the process. The Baton Rouge native (Tom Cruise even puts on a fairly passable southern drawl) is even cornered into relocating to Arkansas; I’ve only scratched the surface of this whirlwind of insanity. As authorities higher up in the hierarchy continuously conduct investigations, Barry toes the line between serving his country no questions asked along with carrying out his moneymaking system.
Director Doug Liman is unequivocally aware of how ludicrous these events were, presenting American Made essentially as a black comedy. Sure, there are some intense sequences where Tom Cruise has to safely export whatever product he is running at the time and airborne chases with the DEA that are built on outsmarting one another rather than bombastic chaos, but the always relevant and fantastic actor is largely being used here for comedic purposes. Anyone that has ever seen Tropic Thunder knows that the A-lister is perfectly capable of eliciting laughter, but Doug Liman brought out that natural humor effortlessly in a unique way during the sci-fi save the world’s shenanigans present in the excellent Edge of Tomorrow. Here, it all once again pays off; just wait until the neighborhood crash landing gag.
Unfortunately, the direction and script are a bit too focused on Barry, wasting away a plethora of supporting characters played by notable actors. There is the feeling that the international criminal does have a loving relationship with his wife and multiple children, but the film doesn’t spend much time at all exploring them even when he isn’t around. Barry’s wife basically solely exists in this movie for Barbie-doll appearance sex appeal and to pop out babies, which is a shame. Even characters related to all of the illegal activity, such as a sheriff played by Jesse Plemons who is suspicious of Barry is drastically underutilized to the point where it’s easy to assume most of his content was outright cut.
At the same time, there are some positives to this creative decision. For one, American Made is paced at a breakneck speed that never stops to breathe, which would normally be a major issue in most movies, but Doug Liman is a gifted director that knows how to control the storm. Even when the film takes 30 seconds to explain something like Barry’s operation, it’s done so in a visually appealing way that makes use of on-screen animation of a world map with amusing narration. No matter how much is going on, the movie is always easy to follow, although there is absolutely no time to soak in the craziness of everything transpiring until the credits roll.
Still, because American Made is flying by at the speed of one of Barry’s planes, there isn’t much time to dive into him either as a character. We know he likes money, the rush from partaking in all of the crime, and that’s really it. Once again, that’s where the casting of Tom Cruise definitely comes in handy, as his natural likability is enough to mitigate that flaw. His aviator shades and an accurate depiction of the early 80s with an appropriate soundtrack (it’s also not afraid to get anachronistic with song selection) also by extension liven up the fun.
American Made is Tom Cruise having a blast which is infectious. This is unquestionably his best role since Edge of Tomorrow, it’s filled with expected cockiness, hilarity, and the never-ending thirst for more riches. Unfortunately, it ends with a whimper rather than the bang, but the ride there is certainly one hell of an experience. In a world where Hollywood wants to remake Scarface again, that isn’t the answer; tell different stories about drug trades set in the 1980s. American Made is one such crowd-pleasing success of an example.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com