Movie Reviews

Review: Energized ‘American Made’ glides on Cruise control

cruise
Tom Cruise plays the drug smuggling pilot Barry Seal in “American Made.” (Universal Pictures)

It’s good to see Tom Cruise acting again!

Not to put down Cruise’s work as a supremely entertaining action hero, but Ethan Hunt’s character arc wrapped up with Mission: Impossible III. Cruise has been playing a variation on the super spy melody ever since (what ‘Mummy’ remake?).

Cruise gets a chance to fully embrace his more boisterous inner-thespian in this ludicrous, quick-paced crime comedy based off the real-life exploits of Louisiana-born TWA pilot Barry Seal. Seal, to earn a little extra cash on the side of his commercial career, made a habit out of sneaking cigars back into the states during flights to Cuba. This, of course, does not go unnoticed.

In the late 70s, the giddy pilot is approached by a mysterious, redheaded CIA clerk named Schaffer (Domhnall Gleeson) who offers him a job as a CIA operative. The name of the game? Flying over and nabbing pictures of secret Soviet military installations down in Central America. Giggling, Seal accepts. For a bored pilot who’d resorted to deliberate nosedives of commercial airliners for the sake of spicing up his monotonous routine, the offer (much like this movie) is too thrilling to pass up.

Eventually, Barry gets so good at his new job (as he puts it in the film) that the feds increased his shady workload. Seal began working as an intel courier for the Panamanian dictator (also a CIA-informant) as well as smuggling weapons to the U.S.-backed Contra in Nicaragua. Sometimes Seal even snuck young Nicaraguan troops into and out of the states who needed to be trained to combat Commies back home.

Seal’s dubious relationship with the CIA is carefully groomed by Schaffer. And though he doesn’t get much screen time here, Gleeson steals the scenes he’s in with an appropriately awkward performance.

In exchange for his services, the CIA agrees to look the other way once Seal gets involved with Pablo Escobar (Alberto Ospino) and starts running cocaine for the Medellin cartel. Before he knows it, Seal is literally drowning in riches (there’s a funny sequence wherein Barry, struggling to find a place to stash his dirty money, opens a closet door only to have a huge pile of cash spill out all over him).

It’s more money than he and his family can spend or bury in the yard. It’s more even than they can launder, though that’s not for a lack of trying. The Seals set up several fronted businesses that help transform Mena, Arkansas into a pseudo-boom town.

Director Doug Liman (whose previous works include the Matt Damon-led ‘Bourne’ films as well as the Cruise-helmed Edge of Tomorrow) takes a cavalier approach to the story at hand. American Made never pauses to acknowledge the destructive repercussions of Seal’s crimes or their ensuing insanity. Nor does it delve into the cruel inner workings of cartel business. Instead, Liman keeps flying from one crazy episode to the next.

That same momentum which keeps American Made airborne also keeps it from soaring to greater heights. We never learn much about anybody, including Barry Seal. In fact, he’s made out to be a greedy, Reagan-era caricature.

Ultimately, American Made floats on Cruise’s charm and charisma. It’s the actor’s most enthusiastic performance in a long time and it’s impossible to resist that superstar smile of his. We know Barry Seal is a one of the bad guys, but it feels right rooting for him to come out on top of all the insanity.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Out of 4)


Director: Doug Liman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

Rated: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

Year: 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: