It’s Not a Felony if Tom Cruise is the Lead.
American Made reunites Director Doug Liman and International Star Tom Cruise in a scandalous, government affair highlighted by innovative and quirky filmmaking that captures the essence of the Reaganomics Era. While the narrative and overall pacing is exceptional, the film suffers from a miscast star that can’t fully dive deep into the role.
In a surprise to most audiences, this film revolves around a series of incidents preceding the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is a former TWA pilot who becomes a drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel in the 1980s. After running into trouble with the law, United States Government officials approach Seal to serve as an informant for the DEA in order to avoid jail time. This brief synopsis oversimplifies a lot of the crazy events that actually take place during the film.
Liman has a knack for filming the many take-off and landing scenes sprinkled throughout the film. Seal’s first makeshift take-off on an uncompleted runway maintains a thrilling tone, forcing audiences to question whether Seal is as good a pilot as he claims. As the film progresses, these scenes evolve into a team of ragtag pilots running smuggling lines in great comedic fashion. This premise culminates in government chases throughout the skies, yet the script smartly maneuvers around a prolonged action scene. While the “crash landing” featured so prominently in the trailers is astounding, the context surrounding the scene makes the impulsive action more gratifying. Insane action scenes solidify the comedic tone mixed in with a constant, thrilling danger.
The main negative surrounding this film is Tom Cruise. Now, Cruise is thoroughly entertaining in the movie, and I think he gave one of his stronger performances. However, many times it felt like the audience was watching Tom Cruise himself, rather than Seal. Maybe this is the result of Cruise’s larger than life fame. After seeing Marshall, a biopic centered on one of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s trials as a lawyer working for the NAACP, Cruise doesn’t appear to have the same level of surrendering commitment that Chadwick Boseman continuously showcases. This complaint may be a bit too harsh, but Tom’s all too familiar charm is constantly over-utilized reminding us that he is the star of this movie. On the other hand, this hyper-realism may appeal to some audiences as Cruise’s high-strung demeanor does blend well with the fast-and-loose paced story. A stronger emphasis on Seal’s devilish charm would’ve catapulted Cruise into award contention. For example, one scene preceding the climax of the movie, masterfully demonstrates Seal’s calm and cool demeanor in the face of unsurmountable adversity.
Also, some of the more dire aspects of the movie are dealt with too quickly or become confused by comedic undertones. This could be a result of the very varied supporting cast. For example, without giving away any plot details, JB, Seal’s brother-in-law, has a confusing arc that is off-putting, and only forgivable because the movie is supposedly based on true events. Jesse Plemons is completely wasted with a short payoff that could’ve been fulfilled by any other actor. Sarah Wright is very strong as Seal’s wife Lucy. She is on Barry’s journey through the peaks and the valleys. Much of her material is surface level, although she is given some more dramatic work towards the end of the film. A welcome surprise is Domnhall Gleeson, who plays the government “boogieman” with high-level “patriotic” aspirations. Gleeson’s morally questionable dialogue easily foreshadows the introduction of Pablo Escobar and Colombian drug cartels.
Overall, American Made is an enjoyable “true life” film that blurs the line between government agents and criminals. Sit back, relax and take flight on a wild drug smuggling ride.