Tom “The Last Movie Star” Cruise. American Made is only worth watching because only Tom Cruise could star in this film. Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA in the late 1970s to perform reconnaissance missions over Soviet interests in Central America. This escalates to him acting as a courier for the Agency and Noriega in Panama, and then to shipping arms and supplies to the Contras in Nicaragua. Along the way, the Medellin Cartel hires Barry to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Yes, this is based on a true story, and the film playfully acknowledges the outlandishness of the events within a few times.
Barry is not a good person. Sure, he may not be actively hurting anyone, but he is facilitating a lot with his involvement with the cartel. He may have enough of a remove to allow him to sleep at night, but the man has a weak moral compass. That much the film makes clear. But Cruise excels at playing these kinds of overconfident, brash men that charm the viewer through sheer charisma. Only Tom Cruise could play this role and have the audience this firmly in Barry’s corner.
And his presence fills the screen. Yes, there is a supporting cast, but they aren’t terribly important, and we really only ever see them the way Barry does. They’re all one-dimensional from his wife (Sarah Wright) to his CIA handler (Domhall Gleeson). The performances aren’t bad, but they don’t get the range or depth needed.
For a film about drug policy, the Cold War, and other serious topics, American Made is a breezy watch. The tone is closer to The Wolf of Wall Street than anything else, though not as masterfully realized. Director Doug Liman keeps the film going at a fast pace, rarely slowing down. It is a sacrifice of depth for covering more ground, and only serves to reinforce the light feeling given by this dark comedy.
César Charlone is also worthy of praise, and his cinematography is astounding (it helps that Cruise did a lot of his own flying, allowing for some great shots) not only in clarity, but in colors. The landscapes pop with lush greens and bright browns, giving the film a vividness that serve to underline the film’s heightened take on reality.
American Made isn’t one of the best films I’ve seen this year, but it is certainly one of the most fun.
American Made opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.