DIR: Doug Liman • WRI: Gary Spinelli • PRO: Doug Davison, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Brian Oliver, Kim Roth, Tyler Thompson • DOP: César Charlone • ED: Saar Klein, Andrew Mondshein, Dylan Tichenor • DES: Dan Weil • MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright
Every year, the summer season tends to include at least one unapologetic male fantasy film for the dads that does moderately well at the box office and becomes quickly forgotten about. Usually, they offer an avatar that develops a sense a power by living dangerously, earning lots of money, and having lots of sex, all under the pretence of condemning the American dream while also saying it lets you do some really cool things. For 2017, American Made is that film, based loosely on the life of former drug smuggler and C.I.A. informant, Barry Seal, who notoriously abetted the white house in exposing members of the Medellín Cartel (including Pablo Escobar) before being assassinated in 1986.
Although that sounds interesting and exactly the kind of story Hollywood covets to get its hands on, there is little if any insight into government corruption or drug trafficking, which serves as only a framework to the overall fantasy. The basic outline of American Made can be surmised as a bored husband and father (Tom Cruise), who hates the tedium of his work, is given an offer (here by Domhnall Gleeson) to infiltrate a dangerous foreign group, only to find himself face to face with one of the group’s leaders (Jorge Ochoa played by Alejandro Edda) who counteroffers with a far more lucrative proposal. Playing both sides against one another, Seal takes full advantage of his new home and wealth with his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), until the whole operation eventually falls apart and Seal’s lifestyle, and his life, become under threat by everyone around him.
Yet as wholly generic as its plot may be, director Doug Liman adds small touches of creativity to liven up the execution. Many problems with Tom Cruise’s films stem from the actor himself showcasing his ego by being the cocky hero that made him famous. As Barry Seal, Cruise is presented as a pawn who thinks himself a king. Seal asking his wife whether she trusts him and she outright stating no is treated as a recurring gag and one which refreshingly deflates the action star when necessary. Most famous for directing The Bourne Identity and the surprisingly fun Tom Cruise vehicle, Edge of Tomorrow, Liman knows how to rely upon and restrain Cruise’s charismatic persona to enjoyably great effect.
Likewise, some scenes work really well in creating tension and suspense in areas where other screenwriters and directors might not have given much thought to. There’s something oddly engaging in watching Seal simply etch out the mathematical requirements for lifting a plane off a narrow runway beleaguered by tall trees with heavy packages of cocaine in his plane’s compartment. It allows us to see an intelligence and skill in the character that films like these often forget to include.
In its minute and nonconsequential moments, American Made feels like something more substantial than many of its comparative films, but it’s not enough elevate the material beyond a flashy by-the-numbers gangster movie. As its neat two hour runtime draws to a close, there’s little that could be regarded as memorable or unique shortly after the film’s conclusion. American Made is, at times, an exciting and humorous turn for Cruise following Universal’s disastrous remake of The Mummy, but offers nothing new to stand out as anything other than an above-average blockbuster for the end of summer.
15A (See IFCO for details)
American Made is released 25th August 2017