American Made

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Tom Cruise in American Made.
Tom Cruise in American Made.
Photo: Universal Pictures


American Made




4/5 Stars


Barry Seal is a successful TWA pilot whose small-time smuggling side business catches the eye of the CIA who enlist him to help spy on communist training camps in Latin America. It's not long, however, before he comes to the attention of the up and coming Medellin drug cartel who in turn make him an offer he can't refuse to smuggle their drugs into the United States while on his missions for the CIA. Based loosely on a true story.


After The Mummy proved to be Tom Cruise's first genuinely bad movie in a very long time, it's particularly pleasing to see him back on such fine form just a few months later in a role that seems all but written for him. Cruise's particular mix of serious charisma and just the right amount of crazy has long made him one of Hollywood's most undeniable movie stars and it's that very combination that makes him such a perfect fit for Barry Seal.

As portrayed in the film, at least, Seal is an incredibly likeable family man with a slightly crazed but no less charming, roguish side that comes out especially while he's on the job. He is also someone willing to try anything, no matter how dangerous, to get that job done. Sound like anyone you know? 

As if being just a profession (and scandalous cult) away from Barry Seal wasn't enough, Cruise more than lives up to both his and Seal's reputations for trying things that most "normal" people wouldn't dare do in even their most escapist fantasies. In particular, the stunts that Seal pulled off as a pilot, both to get the best surveillance for the CIA and when dumping kilos of drugs from a plane flying on autopilot just a few feet from the ground, are recreated wholesale in the film by Cruise himself. American Made may not have anywhere near the amount of crazy stunts as your average Mission Impossible movie but what there are, are seriously impressive, made all the more so by the fact that it's an actor in his fifties doing them.          

Cruise clearly carries the film every step of the way but it's hardly just a one man show. On the acting front, he is matched brilliantly with his shady CIA dealer, played by Domnhall Gleason who once again proves not just his acting chops but his uncanny ability to transform his thick Irish accent for an entirely believable American drawl. No less impressive but in need of far more airtime is Sarah Wright as Seal's increasingly bewildered-but-sly-in-her-own-way wife – more of her please, in general!

More than anything, though, Cruise once again brings out the very best from his director, Doug Liman. Liman has had a decidedly spotty career since breaking through with his zeitgeisty classic, Swingers, but at his best, he's a pretty great filmmaker – and in recent years, he has been at his very best when teamed with Tom Cruise in the woefully under-seen but rightly beloved Edge of Tomorrow. Clearly feeding off Cruise's endless supply of energy and a sharp, witty script by Gary Spinelli, Liman directs American Made with real zing and style, making its two hours fly by in a massively entertaining flash.  

It's so entertaining, in fact, that it's really rather easy to overlook its weaker aspects. It's not, for a start, remotely substantial as there really is very little going on beneath the surface. With a story this extraordinary – and even if only 10% of it turns out to be true, it is extraordinary – and this well told, though, it almost doesn't need any deeper layers. 

It's also no less true that the film is pretty unoriginal in its telling as Liman and Spinelli clearly borrow heavily from movies like Goodfellas or Blow (to name just two off the top of my head) but, again, this simply doesn’t take away from how effective it is. It's consistently funny, smart, engaging and even tense when it needs to be – how much more do you really need?

Liman and Cruise's second team-up may not be as inventive as their first but for Cruise this is a huge step up from The Mummy, while Liman is on much surer footing here than he was in middling genre pictures like Jumper, Fair Game and Mr and Mrs Smith. This is the sort of actor-director perfect matches that you just don't see very often and Live, Die, Repeat and Repeat – the sequel to Edge of Tomorrow where the two are set to once again team up with the no less excellent Emily Blunt – cannot come soon enough. 


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