2017 has finally found its Cruise factor. Following up his involvement in June’s awkward mega-flop The Mummy, the trademark Tom Cruise swagger returns to fine form in the slick crime comedy American Made. This semi-factual account of a drug-smuggling pilot and White House informant is another rousing course in Southern lawbreaking following August’s droll delight Logan Lucky. Just as Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig took startlingly committed dives into country roles, Cruise similarly dons rural drawl to great result as high-flying hotshot Barry Seal.
American Made is the second film this year from Doug Liman, who is best known for cementing his status as an action maestro by directing The Bourne Identity. His first offering for 2017 was May’s frugal, yet efficient Iraq war drama The Wall with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena. His second is his latest collaboration with Tom Cruise, on the heels of their initial pairing in 2014’s exceptional sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow. American Made can’t compete with that movie’s blazing ingenuity, but Cruise’s brash and jovial smuggler is sure to give you a buzz.
The film is a loose biographical account of Baton Rouge-born aviator Barry Seal. One day during a routine layover while flying for TWA, the gifted airman is approached by a shifty CIA agent named Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). When Schafer makes it clear to Barry the CIA has been aware of some minor smuggling jobs he’s been involved with, Seal begins to sweat. He is quickly relieved to find his skills on the sly have fashioned him a prime candidate for the CIA’s top-secret reconnaissance program monitoring communistic regimes in Central America.
Seal relishes the freedom of his one-man plane and the financial rewards undercover work can merit. His frequent presence doesn’t go unnoticed among the locals, however, and the pilot is soon recruited transporting cocaine over the border by none other than Pablo Escobar. To maintain their political interests, the CIA turns a blind eye to Seal’s side business, but as he becomes more deeply involved with both parties, his cashflow begins to explode. This catches the attention of the DEA, which in turn jeopardizes Seal’s relationship with the ruthless cartel.
Liman’s latest entry is comparable in concept to previous spirited crime films such as Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, in which the subjects spend the initial half reveling in their craft and absurd riches, and the latter scenes agonizing as karma returns with furor and their worlds begin to crumble. Liman is no Scorsese, however, and the movie’s well-trodden premise renders the style familiar and the outcome predictable. Thankfully, a shrewd and comical script by Gary Spinelli and a magnetic Tom Cruise are there to elevate the material above the mundane.
He might not emulate the pilot in appearance (the real Seal was over 300 pounds), but Cruise’s carefree take on the thrill-seeking flier powers American Made with a charismatic performance whose southern charm varies from his lengthy resume of similar roles. Sarah Wright’s Lucy Seal expresses a believable loyalty to her husband, even as she skeptically rolls with the punches and forgives Seal’s increasingly erratic behavior. Domhnall Gleeson is well-cast as Barry’s laidback CIA contact, and Caleb Landry Jones hits the nail on the head as Seal’s foolish brother-in-law.
The case of American Made’s smuggling kingpin offers sharp perspective on American excess, as well as a fitting satire on U.S. politics. Barry Seal truly was “American made” – a cocky Western-bred cash hound long before the government stepped in and created a monster. The character is hardly the best instance of such commentary, but Seal’s story is an effective example of the collateral damage incurred from our policing of other nations. The events are presented in a detailed depiction of the era, complete with title cards that feel lifted straight from 70s TV.
Though it’s not the first of its kind, American Made is an agreeable cautionary story on greed, and a diverting, if not altogether accurate account of a wild true story. In his second collaboration with director Doug Liman, Tom Cruise has seized suitable redemption after this summer’s disastrous The Mummy with a distinctive representation of his reliable star power. If you’re a nervous flier, seeing a pilot asleep at the wheel or involved in a zero-gravity love scene probably won’t help. Otherwise, this comedic rendition of the drug-running airman should hit the spot.
Universal Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Quadrant Pictures, Vendian Entertainment and Kylin Pictures.
Directed by Doug Liman.
Written by Gary Spinelli.
Starring Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson,
Alejandro Edda, Mauicio Mejia, Jesse Plemons and Caleb Landry Jones.
Released September 29, 2017.