Like a picturesque postcard with a cutout from a Wikipedia page glued to the back, “American Made” is both pretty and informative – and seems happy being just that.
An action-comedy that’s intent on telling its tale with punchy panache not prolonged perfection, Doug Liman’s film is part art department’s wet dream and part period piece escapism. Imagine a fat photoshop palette of vibrant colours, twisty, fun fonts and artistic effects layered atop of a headline-grabbing yarn one might find under Dad’s coffee mug.
It’s “Boogie Nights” with powder instead of penis – but both with their respective, trailer-worthy money shots.
TWA pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise, looking a third of his 55-years) comes to the attention of the authorities for an operation he has going involving the illegal importation of Cuban cigars.
CIA Agent Monty Shafer (Domhnall Gleeson), impressed with Seal’s plucky piloting in the past, wants Seal to work undercover for the agency.
But while taking photos of enemy territory for his country, Seal gets friendly with Colombian gangsters – one being hot Google hit Pablo Escobar – and finds himself transporting drugs for them back to the US, in exchange for millions of dollars.
Pretty soon, Seal is making so much dough that he and wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) – kept mostly in the dark on what her husband is up to – have it pissing out of every hole.
But as the years tick on, and the DEA becomes a more powerful player, the Seal family luck starts to run out.
“American Made” – Cruise’s second outing with Doug Liman, following “Edge of Tomorrow” – feels like a movie the ageless, eternally-magnetic marquee name could’ve made anytime. It could have popped up sometime between “Legend” (1985) and “Days of Thunder” (1990) or it could’ve followed his successful run of Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire”, “Vanilla Sky”) films in the late ’90s. It is, for all intents and purposes, a Tom Cruise film that would’ve worked anytime over the past 30 years. The guy has ‘got this’. Ironically, “American Made” works as well as it does because it doesn’t out and out try to be a Tom Cruise vehicle (like most of his films do). Instead, this is the story of a real guy, the interesting situation he was caught up in, and the intriguing folks he got caught up with. This is about Barry Seal, not Tom Cruise.
The appeal here is the extraordinary tale, that of of a common guy seduced by a dominatrix named excess. But without Cruise wearing the TWA garb, it wouldn’t have worked as well. The hardest working man in showbiz delivers his finest work in eons here with a fun, who-gives-a-shit performance that’s coupled with his trademark charisma and coolness. Cruise makes “American Made” the easy, enjoyable watch it is. Cruise is welcome glitter to what might have otherwise been a fairly generic envelope.
For the most part, the ’70s and ’80s backdrop works well – with its infusion of appropriate tunes, appearances by all the major political figures at the time, including General “Ollie” North (Robert Farrior) and a young George W (Connor Trinneer of “Star Trek Enterprise” fame), and tie-ins with the major political, cultural and socio-economic changes of the time – but it’s not nearly as fun, nor as detailed, as other similar-toned films of the period (“Boogie Nights”, “Catch Me If You Can”) have been. But heck, if his past films – be it “The Bourne Identity” or “Mr & Mrs Smith” – are anything to go by, Liman isn’t capable of going there. He just isn’t. The dude has never been one to focus on the finer details over fun or depth over dazzle, and “American Made”, with its heavy concentration on style and silliness over substance and significance, is another reminder of that. That’s OK, because when it comes to directing fun, frenetic action scenes (specially those of the “shaky cam” style) or diluted drama that’s so over-the-top it can’t be taken seriously, (some of the moments in “Go” are hilariously tense!) Liman is a jukebox of hits. In many ways, he’s what we assumed, after the success of his original “Bad Boys”, Michael Bay would become – a fun, imaginative filmmaker that didn’t shoot any higher than his strengths but still made the most enjoyable of movies. Bay fucked our crystal ball there, but Liman’s delivered on his promise film after film – well, nearly all, “Jumper” was a mess.
Sure, there’s probably an award-worthy Barry Seal epic out there waiting to be produced, but in the meantime, this fun escapist distraction from newbie scribe Gary Spinelli might just be what our sack-stinging Trump-led times call for – and if “American Made” snags some MTV Movie Awards along the way, bets are on Doug Liman and Tom Cruise likely considering the mission successful.