Say what you want about Tom Cruise, but I’ve always challenged someone to actually name a bad film in which he headlines. It was nearly impossible until The Mummy back in May of this year. I’m happy to say that just a mere four months later, Cruise has returned to form in American Made with his portrayal of real life TWA pilot turned drug smuggler turned CIA informant, Barry Seal.
American Made is set in the 1970’s through the 1980’s and follows Barry through a wacky, almost entirely unbelievable story that seems to just keep escalating beyond control as he deals with going undercover for the CIA, smuggling drugs and guns for the Cartel, avoiding detection from other US authorities such as the DEA and ATF, and most importantly – keeping his family safe. At one point, when it appears that Barry’s scheme looks to finally be at its end near the beginning of the third act, I had to question how much of this story was actually true as he simply walked away yet again and certain text appeared across the screen. It just seemed so unlikely that one person could have his hands in so many pots at the same time and the plot just kept escalating to higher levels. It’s just the right amount of over-the-top though that the film remains enjoyable and will even have the viewer laughing at times.
When I saw that Doug Liman was directing, it boosted my enthusiasm for the movie quite a bit, as I’m a fan of a number of his films – Swingers, The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and this is his second time directing Cruise after 2015’s sleeper hit (and one of my favorites in recent memory) Edge of Tomorrow. He knows how to make a wide array of entertaining films. In American Made, with the exception of a few CIA office scenes, nearly the entire movie is shot from Barry’s point of view including a bunch of video documentaries as he takes us through the story up through its climactic ending. The only problem I had with this narrative was that they chose to leave time stamps on the video tapes, which at the time was ten years into the future and pretty much eliminated any feeling of danger for Barry’s character. He also chose to shoot some scenes like it was a documentary of some sorts in which the camera awkwardly zoomed in at times which I didn’t really understand as to why. However, he does succeed in creating tension when necessary and during some sequences, I may have been holding my popcorn a little too tightly.
Cruise is as good as ever – a breath of fresh air after the aforementioned dud earlier this year. You get your money’s worth from his charisma and performance alone. Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant, Ex Machina, Force Awakens) has quickly become one of my favorite working actors as of late, popping up in nearly everything. In this film, he portrays “Schafer,” the CIA agent that recruits Barry for the mission and I think he does a great job too for what time he had one screen. I think there was more to explore with his character than the film allowed, but I think being that most of the movie is from Barry’s perspective, the viewer is left with the same feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty Barry feels when working undercover with him.
When all was said and done, American Made was a thrill ride that just kept going and was propelled by Cruise’s performance. Just when you think it couldn’t get crazier, it does. Just when you think it’s over, it isn’t. I was thoroughly entertained.
American Made gets a B.