American Made is loosely based on the real life story of Barry Seal, a former airline pilot turned smuggler for the CIA, Medellin Drug Cartel and the White House. It stars Tom Cruise as Seal (sadly not the “Kiss From A Rose” singer), with Domnhall Gleeson, Sarah Wright and Jesse Plemons in supporting roles. The director is Doug Liman, who worked together with Cruise on the brilliant Edge of Tomorrow, but who also made The Bourne Identity and Mr and Mrs Smith. Cruise has already starred in the recent mega-flop The Mummy, and really needs American Made to be a success. Is this film good enough to restore our faith in Mr Cruise?
This film is not perfect by any means. Insubstantial, it lacks depth and focus in several key areas and this means that it isn’t a film that will be remembered in the pantheon of great Cruise films. In particular, Sarah Wright, who is excellent as Seal’s wife, is barely given any time to breathe and ends up playing the stereotypical wife at home. Some recognisable faces including Breaking Bad and Fargo‘s Jesse Plemons and Gone Girl and Mistress America‘s Lola Kirke have little screen time which makes me wonder why their characters even feature in the film. There are several moments of noticeable CGI, which really stand out against the magnificent real-life aerial stunts.
However, this film is very entertaining and has so many positives elements which meant I overlooked some of its weaknesses. As I mentioned previously, the aerial stunt work in this film is incredible. Cruise appears to fly his plane for most of the film which leads to plenty of incredible aerial photography where you can see Cruise take off and land his plane in real time.
American Made is very well directed and Liman and his editors give the film a rollicking pace. This is not a film which warrants much thought and so Liman has crafted a thoroughly entertaining thrill-ride. The film tells the story without the sombre and serious tones of biopics such as Walk the Line, Capote and Foxcatcher and feels all the better for it. There is nothing pompous or heavy about this film and the pace means that it flies by and keeps your good will all the way through. Some films don’t know when to stop (Hitman’s Bodyguard I’m looking at you), but American Made floats on a cloud of charm all the way until the end. There is nothing pretentious about this film.
The real draw of the film is Tom Cruise. Cruise has had a patchy track record in recent years. He’s made some excellent films (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Edge of Tomorrow) and some awful ones (The Mummy, Jack Reacher Never Go Back). I’m sure this will be regarded as one of the better ones and has restored some of my faith in him. Cruise has been one of my favourite movie stars for many years and when he’s on top form he’s one of the most entertaining cinematic presences around. In The Mummy, Cruise felt miscast, his usual action hero schtick being at odds with the horror premise. The Mummy was like a combination of cheesecake and steak. American Made feels tailored for Cruise. It has elements of Maverick from Top Gun with that incredible grinning charm that Cruise is known for. Noone wears aviator sunglasses and grins quite like Tom Cruise. He’s a perfect fit for this film and has the kind of deranged recklessness that really fits this role.
Overall, American Made is a lot of fun, and features the best Cruise performance in a while. If you enjoy terrific practical action and aerial photography then this is the fun, but insubstantial film for you. There are plenty of turkeys out in the cinema at the moment, but this isn’t one of them. See for yourself and let me know what you think in the comments below.
American Made is in cinemas nationwide now. Image source: www.hollywoodreporter.com