Out this week is the latest film from Doug Liman, American Made, starring Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, and Domhnall Gleeson. The film movie on actual events surrounding an American pilot named Barry Seal (Cruise) who is approached by a CIA agent named Shafer (Gleeson). Shafer discusses Seal’s less than reputable dealings gives him the opportunity wipe the slate clean as well as serve his country. What follows is one of the most ridiculous and over the top true stories you’ll see this year, or so it is advertised.
American Made is a paint by numbers “true story” film. Even though the movie constantly tells you that the events are ridiculous and that you won’t believe what happened everything feels mundane and all too familiar. It may be due to the fact of the era we live in or the lack of actual peril in the film, but there’s barely anything noteworthy in American Made.
There are various points throughout American Made where you are told by Seal himself the bonkers events that he found himself in. For example, he had to dodge the DEA, he helped arm an army for Pablo Escobar and his comrades, and would traffic drugs across multiple countries over the course of the 70’s and 80’s. Director Doug Liman cuts any tension out of these scenes with his choice of leading man, Tom Cruise who is his usual lovable self. He charms his way across Colombia and Panama to the United States, and it ultimately diminishes the potential for peril in this film. What Cruise’s infectious charm does bring is a surprising amount of comedy sadly though it doesn’t land nearly as well as pilot Barry Seal. This is down to the decent, not great, acting from Cruise, Gleeson, and Sarah Wright, who plays Lucy Seal, the wife of Barry. They are all larger than life characters but when everyone is larger than life no one is, and it comes across as boring. There are other players in American Made, but none of them are given enough time on screen to be memorable. It’s unfortunate, the world of American Made is filled with these characters that we’ve seen before, they may have different names, but they are the same old character archetypes we’ve seen from films that talk about this era in history. For all its promises of being bold and crazy American Made is safe and secure in what it wants to be, possible Oscar bait, a film that talks about how amazing America is even though it is filled with incredibly flawed individuals.
The film itself is convincingly period appropriate, the style and the world are set up well through a dynamic and chaotic cinematography style. There is also an era appropriate score/soundtrack that helps the audience understand the emotions that Liman wants them to feel throughout the film. There are moments where the stars align and the direction, cinematography, score, acting line up and these moments are mainly in the air. When Barry is flying the skies dodging the bullets and the government you’re genuinely engaged watching how he got away with so much for so long, and they’re fascinating snippets of the film, but as I stated earlier, they are only moments.
American Made is a decent film; sadly several issues stop it from being anything memorable. The biggest problem is the same problem The Mummy, another film starring Mr. Cruise, had. Tom Cruise should not have been cast. His presence cuts any actual immersion that the audience may want to feel going in because he’s just playing yet another iteration of the persona that he has crafted over his career. The final nail in the coffin is the fact that this is nothing new, the ‘a quirky man in an even quirkier world true story’ has been done before, and it’s been done better.