This is the type of Tom Cruise project that people have missed and he delivers in spades even when the rest of the film somewhat fails to keep up with his charismatic sleezeball of a performance.
Much has been made of Tom Cruise’s maligned involvement earlier in the summer with the terrifically dull, sequel-bait, world building The Mummy. What can’t be argued, however, is Cruise’s ability to drum up interest in projects and franchises that would otherwise fall to the wayside. As seen with the like of Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible, Cruise still has major pulling power within Hollywood and collaborating with Doug Liman once again, previously on Edge Of Tomorrow, Cruise decides to tackle the incredible (but true) story of U.S Pilot Barry Seal; a man who inadvertently kickstarted the fruition of The Medellin Cartel headed by a certain Pablo Escobar.
The story, written by Gary Spinelli, charters the ludicrous events of Seal’s life as an airline pilot who inexplicably gets dragged in by the CIA to gather reconnaissance on the growing reach of communism over South America. However, for Seal, that only acts as the beginning of a chain of happenings that end with him working for both the CIA and as a drug runner for Escobar and his cohorts.
As with most biopics of its kind, American Made, frequently and knowingly plays fast and loose with actual events. What’s utterly crazy however, is that whilst that may be the case, most of what it’s based on is absolutely cemented in some truth. With that, both Liman and Cruise flex their creative muscles in ways that hearken back to films such as Lord of War and more recently, The Wolf of Wall Street. Cruise narrates much of proceedings in a way that, cleverly, does not break the fourth wall but also constantly winks at the audience at the sheer audacity of what they are witnessing. There’s no doubt that all involved here had an absolute hoot in bringing the story of Seal to life. In terms of direction, Liman handles the script with zest and practicality. Believing in the ability of his actors to run with the more zany sequences in the film, his camera work perfectly compliments every scene that he attempts to capture. The editing is tight and lean, with not a second wasted or spared, which feeds into the frenetic, fast-paced nature of the story. The sequences in which Cruise’s Seal is in air are both simultaneously organic and entertaining, as are the sequences on the ground where Seal’s dealings grow and grow in a manner where the sky seems the limit.
The drawback here, unfortunately, is that whilst everything is kept light and relatively breezy considering the subject matter, when it does hit the more dramatic and serious standpoints, they rarely register or hit. Unlike DiCaprio and Scorsesee’s attempts to portray Jordan Belfort as a despicable human with a contagious personality, Liman and Cruise do the opposite. Seal is inherently likeable despite his actions and whilst that complements the films tone, it leaves a somewhat odd aftertaste. Although the film portrays Seal as someone who literally rolls with the punches and seemingly accepts any and all misfortune as problems that come with the business, this does not naturally present itself as strong storytelling. Often, it feels like the film asks us to forget or gloss over things that would otherwise be considered quite significant. Because of such, the stakes never really feel as high as they should and the consequences, not until far too late, never feel damaging enough.
As aforementioned however, Tom Cruise’s star power and natural charisma elevate this film far beyond its trappings. There’s no questioning that instead of going for authenticity in re-creating the actual events, Cruise (who ironically looks absolutely nothing like the real Barry Seal) attempts to approach the role in a manner that highlights the character that Seal was. By doing this, he easily gives on of his breeziest, sleeziest and downright entertaining performances in recent years. A far cry from the all too serious and po-faced turn in The Mummy, Cruise injects a sense of undeniable fun to proceedings and easily caries the weight of the film on his shoulders. He’s aptly supported by the equally likeable Domhnall Gleeson as his CIA supervisor Schafer and the likes of Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones and Sarah Wright. That being said, this is Cruise’s vehicle and he sells the shit out of it.
American Made (2017), directed by Doug Liman, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, certificate 15.