American Made: Every bit as slick as the main character
Tom Cruise puts in one of his best performances in years to give American Made some great wit and charm
Cruise’s slick attitude and dialogue delivery, the ingeniously light-hearted tone of a very serious premise, an action-packed plot filled with ridiculously funny moments. These are just three of the reasons to be impressed by American Made. Based on the true story of pilot, Barry Seal, who quit his job with TWA to gather intelligence for the CIA, the film presents the lead character as a ‘jack of all trades’ mover/fixer willing to work for any side so long as his terms are met.
The first quarter of American Made is a tad reminiscent of Narcos, especially with the narrative voice (of Seal) introducing us to the members of the notorious Medellin Cartel and the intermingling of real documentary/news footage with that of the film. But the similarity ends there. While it deals with all the inherent risks associated with the drug wars, its depiction is as light and humorous as can be. This humour, thanks in part to a brilliant performance by Tom Cruise, keeps you riveted while still teaching you enough about the world’s most famous drug war, and America’s hand in the grand scheme of things. Through his ingenuity and ambition, Barry Seal deals with not just the known devil, which is the CIA (for whom he quits his job with TWA to take covert pictures of enemy territory across South America), but other equally colourful organisations and regimes such as the Medellin Cartel, the Contras, the Sandinistas, the DEA, and the FBI. He begins with flying a special plane at low altitude, taking clandestine photographs while braving bullets, but is soon drawn into the world of cocaine trafficking and gun-running.
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson
American Made is full of organisations, cartels, and rebel regimes trying to get a piece of all the action taking place in South America. There aren’t any good guys to speak of. Barry Seal is the closest one comes to a good guy. Yes, he couriers drugs and weapons from both sides of the US border, but compared to his employers’ motivations, his are far more straightforward – make money, and take care of his family. I can’t remember seeing as good a performance from Cruise in recent history. That’s probably because he isn’t the regular action hero we’re usually subjected to. It is a great Cruise portrayal that gives American Made that extra zing, but his character is one of the lesser known cogs in the wheel trying to make a buck off some tricky gambles. It is the CIA and the Ochoas and the Escobars that he has to eventually answer to. While each party attempts to manipulate the pilot to further its own ends, they underestimate his ability to bring them all down.
Rapid dialogue laced with enough intelligence and wit, American Made is one roller coaster ride worth taking. What makes it even more impressive is how it never takes itself too seriously. It takes a skilful filmmaker to employ a serious subject and infuse it with much humour. Liman does all that, but succeeds in maintaining a coherent biographical story of a pilot who embroiled himself in one of the most dangerous liaisons with intelligence agencies, drug cartels, and US-backed rebel militia groups.
Directing, acting, writing, and some interesting cinematography – the film does well on multiple fronts. It takes a true star to pull off the slick character of Barry Seal. That’s where Tom Cruise puts in one of his best performances in years.