Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright
Directed By: Doug Liman
Running Time: 115 Minutes
UK Release Date: 25 August 2017
BBFC Certificate: 15
Audiences seem to lap up ‘rise and fall’ movies, where an ambitious everyman answers the call to adventure and embarks on a journey that brings them wealth and power. But as The Notorious B.I.G song goes ‘the more money we come across, the more problems we see’ and that is definitely the case with this film.
American Made tells the ‘true story’ of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), an airline pilot who is recruited by CIA agent Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) to take aerial recognisance photos of communist insurgence in South America. That then leads to him smuggling drugs and guns for all sides during the late 70’s and early 80s.
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the plot but as the film progresses and Seal gets more entangled with various agencies and cartels, the crazier and funnier the movie gets!
It’s obvious that some liberties will always be taken with any film that’s based on true story, and as such I never perceived this film as a historically accurate documentary about political capitalism. What you get is an often hilarious and well-paced movie where the situations don’t seem that far-fetched, especially given the stories you have heard about the internal corruption of the CIA and American government of the 70’s and 80’s.
There is undoubtedly a Hollywood gloss over the events and cast, but this is to be expected. As per most Tom Cruise films he is given the chance to be a charming and cocky central character who always finds a way to overcome adversity no matter the odds, and he has a beautiful slim blonde actress playing his wife (Sarah Wright).
I have previously written about Cruise having the ‘Bono effect’, which basically means that lots of people hate his public persona but lots of people love his movies, and I for one haven’t seen a bad movie with him in (bear in mind I haven’t seen this years The Mummy reboot). Lots of people may think that he’s trying to lose his good guy image with this film as he is smuggling drugs for the likes of Pablo Escobar, but at the end of the day he is doing all of these crazy and dangerous things for his family. And the copious amounts of money.
One negative thing about western culture is its obsession with personal wealth. Whereas in the past people lived in fear of God, now we are scared of not being well-off; but that’s capitalism for you. So it’s apt that the title American Made relates so well to the American dream, even though Seal’s way of getting money isn’t exactly legal or moral. The film never really dwells on the negatives of this or the victims of the cartels or governments. Instead it paints a light hearted picture of the events depicted, which in my opinion isn’t a bad thing given the overall tone of this film.
You can safely compare this film to the likes of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and War Dogs (2016), but it feels less bloated, even though a lot happens over the course of the film. One thing that’s for sure is that this is a very humorous take on the source material and is often hilarious, even in its serious moments. It maintains this farfetched yet grounded tone throughout. As such it’s a very entertaining and confident film.
One reason for this is director Doug Liman, who not only brings the great comedic beats of Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), but also prevents Cruise from giving a completely over the top performance. As was pointed out to me, the actor works best with the right directors, and when reunited on projects with Liman (after Edge of Tomorrow 2014) and writer / director Christopher McQuarrie (for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation 2015), they make effective partnerships. I am certainly looking forward to the Edge of Tomorrow and Mission: Impossible sequels, as well as whatever non-franchise projects they have in the pipeline.
Liman and his crew create a great picture of what it was like to be in America during this period, from the opening montage to the use of clothes, cars and technology, which is used to great and poignant effect. City of God (2002) cinematographer César Charlone gives us an up close, rich, exotic and dangerous view of this world, but at points the shaky camera work seem right out of a Bourne film – no surprise as Liman launched the franchise.
But as ‘rise and fall’ movies go there isn’t an overall warning or moral message to the film. Seal is brought into these escapades by the American government and is constantly told that he is doing this for the good of his country, and he is very aware of the risks. He is portrayed as a man who leaps before he looks and as such pays the price for it. But don’t dwell on this as this is one of the funniest and most entertaining films I have seen this year, and one of Cruises best movies.
Overall Verdict: A thoroughly entertaining and wildly funny film based on an almost unbelievable true story. Unlike other ‘rise and fall’ movies the tone is consistent throughout and this film shouldn’t be missed.
Reviewer: George Elcombe