UK Release Date: 25th August 2017
Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Gary Spinelli
Starring: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons
Synopsis: A gifted pilot finds himself making millions of dollars by working simultaneously for the CIA and the drug cartels, running guns, weapons and cocaine across Central America.
Tom Cruise is arguably the last of the true movie stars. He’s one of a select few actors who can sell a film with just their face on a poster and that’s certainly something that benefits drug war thriller American Made. It’s a wild, unusual movie that is perched precariously on rickety narrative foundations, but is able to get by almost solely on the enviable A-list charisma and star wattage of its leading man. That would be a risk with anyone else occupying the lion’s share of the screen time but, for Cruise, it’s another day at the office.
Commercial airline pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) is offered the chance to earn serious money when shadowy CIA operative Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) gives him the chance to run covert missions for the intelligence services. Seal is told to keep it all secret from his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright), who believes he is still carrying out routine civilian flights. On one of his trips, Seal is picked up by the founding members of the Medellin cartel and he soon finds himself running drugs, as well as arming rebels in Nicaragua on Schafer’s orders. Everything starts to unravel for Seal when Lucy’s brother JB (Caleb Landry Jones) moves in to their home.
There are a number of obvious comparison points for American Made, which plays as a combination of the debauched thrills of The Wolf of Wall Street and the real-life drug war context of something like The Infiltrator. It certainly feels reminiscent of the former in terms of its raucous storytelling approach, tracking several decades in the life of informant Barry Seal at a breakneck pace, without pausing for breath or to explain the logic of any of the plotting.
The film breezes by almost entirely as a result of two incredibly charismatic presences. Firstly, there’s director Doug Liman, reteaming with Cruise after the brilliant Edge of Tomorrow. Liman directs the action with a real sense of frenetic energy, with the audience spiralling deeper into the criminal world along with our protagonist. Liman brings Seal’s bizarre strings of good fortune to life with much of the film resembling the joyous middle section of De Palma’s Scarface as Seal enjoys the excess and indulgence now available to him, with Liman capturing the true ridiculousness of the real-life story.
Seal’s indulgence is brought wonderfully to life by the second charismatic presence in American Made – Cruise himself. This isn’t the serious action man of recent years, but a performance more akin to the sauntering, twinkly rebel of Risky Business. Cruise on this sort of form is a truly effervescent big screen presence with a megawatt smile and an aura of confidence that fills every inch of the screen. He’s believably out of his depth in the early stages, but he grows into criminality until it fits him like a glove. There’s plenty of humour mined from scenes in which he literally can’t find anywhere to keep all of his money.
American Made also benefits from a series of fun supporting performances, with Gleeson bringing the weird as a CIA ideas man and Sarah Wright making the most of a typically under-written wife role. It’s Caleb Landry Jones, who was utterly loathsome in Get Out, who stands out as the slovenly, unusual sibling who puts a spanner in the works of everything. In a film that has no handle on its plot and is never anything other than thematically frivolous, it’s the entertaining performances that allow it to stick the landing.
Pop or Poop?
Tom Cruise’s status as a bona fide movie star with all of the charisma that role demands is enough to transform American Made from a generic Wolf of Wall Street knock-off into one of the most enjoyable thrillers of the entire year. Doug Liman’s directing style here is essentially to light the touchpaper and allow Cruise’s star to fizz, accelerate and blast off well into the distance.
The plot doesn’t make much sense and there isn’t a shred of depth compared to more potent drug war movies like Sicario and Traffic but, when things are this much fun, those complaints don’t hold much water.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.