Film Review – American Made
Tom Cruise is a marquee name in a world that is gradually becoming less interested in marquee names. Unlike the heyday of the 70’s and 80’s, branding a film on the charisma of its star is no longer required or expected to produce a hit. (Can you name a single actor in It?) Look no further than Universal’s pathetic attempt to kick start their “dark universe” with this summer’s The Mummy, reviled by critics and audiences alike, despite the always-amiable Cruise manning the ship. A recipe for success these days is more reliant on material and director. Enter Doug Liman.
Liman began his career with the low-budget/high-energy stylings of Swingers and Go before venturing into the action scene with The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, among others. Perhaps his best contribution to the genre, though, is Edge of Tomorrow, his first collaboration with Cruise. Despite the tepid box office returns, Tomorrow is lauded for bringing a distinct sense of fun to its mind-bendy world of time travel and weaponry. As enjoyable as the Mission: Impossible movies (usually) are, it’s difficult to connect with Ethan Hunt. Liman created an opportunity to show off Cruise’s less utilized senses of humor and humanity, a geyser of potential again tapped for American Made.
Ostensibly based on true events, Cruise is Barry Seal, a free-spirited pilot with a fledgling side career as a cigar smuggler who, without much prompting, is seduced into the lucrative world of drug-peddling for Colombian drug cartels. That is until the U.S. government catches wind and enlists him for their own purposes. Told in kinetic fashion, Liman has a blast navigating us through the late 70’s/early 80’s, all from Seal’s perpetually optimistic point of view. His run-ins with Pablo Escobar and a certain former president sort of present American Made as Forrest Gump by means of The Wolf of Wall Street. And almost all of it works.
Cruise goes nearly anti-Cruise and turns in an unusually low-key performance as Seal. A cracker jack pilot, undoubtedly, but there are also hints of dimness, or at the very least blindness to the risks he continually signs on for. His intentions are pure, as he is primarily looking to build a nest egg for he and his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright). As his successes mount, they acclimate accordingly, in the form of furs and luxury cars. Unlike say Goodfellas, though, the debauchery essentially ends there. Considering his moral flexibility regarding the drug trade, Seal’s eyes never wander and there’s no montage of boozing or drugs. I have to say it was refreshing.
The swooping pans and choppy editing bring a vital energy to the proceedings, but also gives the impression there is a mountain of footage that had to find its way onto the cutting room floor. The secondary cast is phenomenal, and excel when given something to do. Domnhall Gleeson as a wormy CIA operative is great fun, for instance. But why include the amazingly talented Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad) and not include a motivation or payoff for his sudden presence? It’s distracting and implies there’s an even better, sprawling version of this on a future Bluray edition.
I think it’s high time Tom Cruise stops being a movie star and American Made is proof he’d be just fine.