Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Alejandro Edda, Caleb Landry Jones
Plot: Barry Seal (Cruise) is a civilian pilot recruited by the CIA, who also starts smuggling drugs for Pablo Escobar on the side.
If American Made wasn’t based on a true story, you would assume Doug Liman was making it up as he went along. The narrative of this film jumps from plot point to plot point so freely, there is an air of unbelievability about the whole thing. However, the story of Barry Seal is predominantly true, albeit partially exaggerated (a lot of the confidential blanks have been filled in and the chronology is streamlined to make the movie easier to follow): a bored pilot, moonlighting as a smuggler, who was hired by the CIA to take surveillance photos of the conflict in South America, as well as several other dirty jobs the CIA wanted to avoid being tied to. While there, Seal ended up being seduced by the dangerous Pablo Escobar and his lavish way of living, smuggling drugs for him under the government’s nose. The film gets far more convoluted than that to the point where you are unsure where Seal’s allegiances actually lie: undercover CIA wannabe or a gutsy career criminal? This is where the film is getting its “making things up as they go along” reputation; American Made feels like a screenplay that gets away from its writers in the second act. But the truth is more likely that Barry Seal was the one making it all up as he went along, drifting from one thrill to the next, like some sort of high stakes adrenaline junkie. He is hardly a mastermind criminal and more of a ridiculously lucky fool that has these golden opportunities fall into his lap. Outside of the cockpit, the character never shows any kind of spark that paints him as a villain worth getting his own movie.
Yet American Made is a very entertaining ride. Tom Cruise fits the role perfectly, but not in his usual stereotypical way. There is a more nuanced performance at play here, the kind of role Cruise takes every now and again, such as Interview With The Vampire to prove that he can actually act with the best of them. It’s not just the Southern drawl he adopts for Barry Seal, but everything about his portrayal of the character: the mannerisms, the facial gestures, the edginess of his characterisation. The stock Cruise role sees him working out every angle; here the actor comes across as a lost puppy, not quite sure if he is onto a good thing or not. Liman’s directorial style also helps take Cruise out of his comfort zone somewhat. It’s gritty, constantly shifting and not particularly flattering. It’s not as though Liman’s style (he did learn from the best, Paul Greengrass, whose style is expertly borrowed from here), makes the actors look bad, but they are not the focus either. As the camera roves around a scene, almost as excitable and fickle as Barry Seal himself, you feel that Cruise has to find another angle, other than his boyish good looks, to make the part work. American Made’s biggest triumph is that the actor succeeds in that mission. If anything, Liman lets the story get away from him slightly. His style is, at times, that little bit too much, too busy to make anything have any staying power or lasting effect on the audience. The editing is painfully hectic, a simple conversation scene between Cruise and Domhnall cutting to an insane amount of angles. It all gets a little too complicated for what the movie actually is. Its job is to entertain, but narrative consistency and depth is overlooked. There are several chapters in Barry Seal’s story that would have benefited from some more explaining, the movie getting all too easy to lose your way in.
Final Verdict: American Made is very fun, especially for seeing Tom Cruise play outside of his type, but overall, the movie is a tad forgettable.