Tom Cruise is reunited with director Doug Liman after their successful collaboration on 2014’s surprisingly good, Edge of Tomorrow.
This time we find the duo more grounded in reality as their latest offering is based on the true life of former TWA commercial airline pilot Barry Seal. Whilst the subject may be less fantastical than their last film, American Made’s plot could easily be mistaken for a purely scripted piece and often it seems as if this story is the result of a very creative mind. However, as is sometimes the case, truth is often crazier than fiction.
During the late 1970’s, Seal found himself stuck in a rut. Flying commercial routes for TWA, bored and underwhelmed, he would smuggle Cuban cigars and fake turbulence to give himself some form of excitement. It was around this time that he was first approached by CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) with an interesting offer.
Seal didn’t take much in the way of convincing and soon found himself flying spying missions over Central America, taking surveillance photographs on behalf of the CIA and later gun-running to Nicaragua for the Contra Rebels on behalf of America. Barry found a new sense of freedom with his new employment under the guise of a small time aviation business owner, but a chance encounter with the Columbian Medellin drug cartel lead to him using his CIA role as an excuse to smuggle cocaine back into the USA on behalf of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
As Seal’s adrenaline seeking ego continued to grow so did his fortune and his involvement with the various underhand practices spiralled to the point where he had to move his family to a new town and build his own little empire. His long suffering wife (Sarah Wright) and children were obviously important to Seal, however he is portrayed as a man who needed more than a comfortable suburban life to fulfil him.
This is where Cruise really shines. He plays Seal as the loveable rogue with a heart of gold. Whilst not exactly a modern day Robin Hood, Seal is shown as an ambitious and driven individual, both quick thinking and quick witted. Able to improvise and talk his way out of tricky predicaments, Seal found himself able to bounce from situation to situation. Cruise ably conveys this in his performance with a mix of manic egotism and good old Southern charm. He is able to effectively take on a different type of character than we are used to seeing from him, displaying a comedic and sometimes almost slapstick approach that benefits from the lack of intensity he usually displays. It’s a softer tone but succeeds in not making the character any less well rounded or interesting.
There’s a genuine sense of fun throughout the film despite its subject matter and one is left with the sense that a far more serious and dramatic piece could well have been told in its place. In reality Seal and Cruise were worlds apart in appearance, Seal apparently owning the nickname El Gordo (The Fat Man) by his Cartel cohorts. Told in parts in a documentary format by Liman, with Cruise providing narration throughout, the edges to this story may well have been dramatically softened in the name of entertainment. In many ways one is reminded of the Wolf of Wall Street in this sense and Sarah Wright is perhaps reminiscent of Margot Robbie’s character as the wife of a manic businessman, seduced by an affluent lifestyle, afforded by a husband not afraid to flirt with the risk of a lengthy prison sentence. In the same vein the lead is given the caveat of actually being a nice guy. He doesn’t display any cliched criminal traits of ruthlessness and instead comes across as a hustler on a streak of good luck. He leaps before he looks for most of the movie, yet somehow always finds himself with an exit strategy. The right guy in the right place at the right time.
Whilst not in the upper echelons of biographical film portrayal American Made is an enjoyable enough experience and provides Cruise enough leeway to stretch his acting abilities in a new direction without seeming too jarring a change. It’s maybe indicative of the actor maturing into less franchised based material such as the Mission Impossible series and the increasingly doomed looking Universal Dark Universe series, after his poorly received Mummy reboot. I for one would definitely like to see more roles along these lines coming from Cruise in the future.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 7/10.
American Made’s 1.85:1 1080p picture won’t dazzle but is more than serviceable and somehow matches the period setting. The DTS:X soundtrack on the other hand is almost reference quality with perfect separation of dialogue, sound effects and score and the expected level of clarity associated with the best DTS:X tracks. The disc is rounded off with 10 minutes of deleted scenes and 6 perfunctory featurettes.
American Made is released on DVD/Blu-Ray and digital download in the U.K. December 26th.