American Made (2017)

  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Action | Biography | Comedy
  • Director: Doug Liman
  • Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Jesse Plemons, Sarah Wright

Storyline:

A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.

2 reviews

  • At 55 years of age and after nearly four decades of critical and commercial success, Tom Cruise has nothing left to prove yet his eagerness to please and maintain his foothold has barely abated. Like most qualities, this can be a blessing and a curse as this year alone proves. After sleepwalking through this summer’s The Mummy, Cruise delivers one of his most energised performances in American Made, a true-life tale that reunites the actor with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman.

    Though Cruise has confirmed a sequel to his career-defining role in Top Gun (Top Gun: Maverick, slated for release in 2019), in many respects his turn as American Made’s Barry Seal could also be viewed as what Maverick might have become once his hotshot days were behind him. Seal clearly still feels the need for speed, or at least something more exciting than his job as a TWA commercial pilot where he has to resort to faking inflight turbulence to stave off the boredom of his routine. He makes a bit of money on the side by smuggling cigars from Cuba into the U.S., a gig which goes very much noticed by CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who recruits him in 1978 to fly a twin-propeller plane and collect intelligence via the cameras installed in the plane. Soon Seal is also being tasked to fly down to Panama as a courier, dropping off cash in exchange for intelligence reports from Colonel Noriega.

    Seal’s constant flights in and out of Panama soon catch the attention of Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía), who propose paying Seal $2K for every kilo of cocaine he gets onto U.S. soil. After a slight hiccup that lands Seal in jail and forces him to uproot his family from their home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to the tiny town of Mena, Arkansas to avoid being picked up by the DEA, his life becomes increasingly more absurd as Schafer soon has him transporting AK-47s to the Contras that President Reagan is supporting in their guerrilla war against the Sandinista-run government. Schafer even has him fly in Contras so they can undergo military training on the 2,000 acres of land that Schafer provided to Seal as his home base. It’s inevitable that things would spiral out of control, what with Seal running guns to the Contras and then to the cartel, who then have him running their cocaine to the Contras, who then sail it into Miami.

    Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli present the affair as an almost lighthearted farce. There’s a tremendous amount of comedic touches, whether it be Seal’s own surprise at surviving scrape after scrape (at one point, he manages to evade the DEA, FBI, ATF, and state patrol), but especially how he is making so much money that there’s literally nowhere to hide it anymore – his backyard is a congested graveyard of buried money; a year’s supply of Samsonite luggages are filled to the brim with unlaundered money; every bank in Mena is stuffed with his millions. The film’s blithe spirit does allow for moments of pathos, such as Caleb Landry Jones’ turn as Seal’s reckless brother-in-law, though one sobering image late in the film strikes a discordant note despite its poignant perfection.

    Cinematographer César Charlone’s restless camera exacerbates the agitation and excitement and his feverish palette renders the heat so palpably that one can feel the sweat prickle the flesh. If there’s one major quibble to made about the film, it is that the characters are so firmly secondary to Cruise’s Seal that actors like Jesse Plemons and Lola Kirke are wasted in roles that may have been more substantial before the editing process. Sarah Wright, as Seal’s wife, brings grit and sass to what could easily have been a Southern Barbie role, though even she gets sidelined by the narrative. One can’t necessarily blame the filmmakers since Cruise is so excellent in the role – desperate characters have always brought out the best in him – but his best moments in the film are not necessarily the solo turns. It’s when he’s persuading his wife to trust him, realising how much of a liability his brother-in-law truly is, and when his cocky smile freezes and drops when Schafer reveals just how much he knows about him.

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  • American Made is my latest write-up. It chronicles one Barry Seal (played by Tom Cruise). In the 1970’s, Seal was a bored TWA pilot who wanted more money and more excitement in his life. He hastily quits his current job, gets contacted by the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions, becomes a gunrunner, and eventually smuggles drugs for the Medellin Cartel. The movie ends with him being fatally assassinated in the mid-80’s (spoiler).

    All in all, this may not be Cruise’s greatest performance but it’s still darn good. It’s much different from his all-american heroes in the past. Notwithstanding Tom’s mundane likeness, he’s still got the charisma, he’s still got the charm, and he’s still got those whitening chompers. Cruise disappears into his role easily and effortlessly. You almost forget that your watching Tom Cruise, the megawatt movie star.

    Directed by Doug Liman and scripted by Gary Spinelli (Stash House), “Made” is a frenzied, bouncy affair. Liman usually makes action pics like The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow. His American Made is something invariably different. It’s unlike anything he’s ever done before. In fact, I’m not sure Doug Liman was even behind the camera. His film at just under two hours, breeds kookiness and breaks a few rules. Heck, him and lead Cruise are all the better for it.

    With the addition of an old school opening sequence a la Universal Pictures, Liman uses a host cinematic techniques in regards to “Made”. There are freeze-frames, archive footage, some jittery camera-work, random inserts of narration, and low grade animation. Doug seems to be channeling his inner Martin Scorsese along with his inner Oliver Stone. Also, despite the fact that American Made is based on a true story, Liman still had to of watched 2001’s Blow or Lord of War for a little inspiration.

    In hindsight, “Made” is mildly tense, feverishly paced, and even intently funny. I didn’t quite embrace its ending for it made Seal’s death a blase, abrupt, and forgettable event. Furthermore, I didn’t completely know what was going on for most of the way. “Made’s” plotting is sort of underdeveloped with a concealed, murky tone right from the get-go. Still, I dug Liman’s groove, his balls out craft, and his breakneck style. I can’t wait to see what this New York born director does next. Rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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