American Made is a biographical crime thriller directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise, who team up again after a successful director-producer-actor partnership in Edge of Tomorrow. Having directed The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith and Fair Game, Liman was a good choice to direct American Made, which blends action and comedy elements within the context of a true story. The film covers the exploits of Barry Seal, a former commercial airline pilot turned Medellin Cartel drug smuggler in the 1980s. Running a lucrative light aircraft smuggling operation between the United States and South America, Seal relocates his family and sets up base in the small town of Mena, Arkansas.
Tom Cruise seems to be the fix-it guy in Hollywood right now. He was cast in the titular role of Jack Reacher, despite being incongruent with the character’s physical dimensions. He was cast in the reboot of The Mummy, despite the part being written for someone like Chris Pratt. It seems that whenever you are in doubt, Tom Cruise is the casting Band Aid to make it all better. He is still considered a bankable star and his name carries considerable weight, which makes him a safe bet when it comes to ensuring your film has a good weekend at the box office.
Cruise certainly owns the role of Barry Seal, without needing the padding of other name stars, however you can’t help but imagine what someone like Sharlto Copley would have brought to the party. Having played Mad Murdock in The A-Team reboot, Copley would have made a great fit, armed with the wacky mystique of someone who would be bold and crazy enough to get himself stuck between the Medellin Cartel and CIA.
“I have a need for speed… and what the hell, some cocaine too!”
Since Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and The Wolf of Wall Street blew the lid off outrageous biographical rags-to-riches period piece stories about morally questionable men hitting the big time, there have been a number of similar films in its wake. Gold gave Matthew McConaughey an opportunity to literally expand his repertoire of transformation performances in the opposite direction to his role in Dallas Buyers Club by playing a dubious prospector. Bryan Cranston brought life to the tricky duality of an undercover agent working his way into the Pablo Escobar empire in The Infiltrator and now it’s Tom Cruise’s turn to gamble with life and live for the moment in American Made.
Planting itself somewhere between Gold and The Infiltrator, American Made delivers an entertaining saga that always seems too good to be true. The outrageous story is told in retrospective from a video recording of Barry Seal, who relays events as he saw them. This gives Liman some creative licence when it comes to the historical accuracy and a little wiggle room when it comes to embroidering the tale. Enchanted by the sheer lunacy of the cat-and-mouse game and taken aback by the reckless attitude of Seal, American Made makes for trashy yet compelling viewing.
Thanks to a charming hook-line-and-sinker performance from Tom Cruise, quick pacing, immersive production values, balanced direction, a fun tone and a fascinating true story, American Made is a triumph. It may not be aiming for the same epic, debauched and manic terrain of The Wolf of Wall Street, but survives on its pulpy, entertaining, offbeat storytelling and tongue-in-cheek A-Team verve.
The bottom line: Entertaining