Here’s a trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEBIJRAkujM
The newest flick from Doug Liman, who last directed The Edge of Tomorrow, is an action packed docu-comedy starring the amazing Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, a slimy, yet loveable airline pilot who gets commissioned by the CIA to smuggle drugs and guns from the U.S. to South America. Interestingly, the film was produced by Imagine Studios, which is run by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. In a weird way, the film adapts a lot of filmmaking styles together that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. I’m not sure if it’s Cruise’s charisma, Liman’s ability to make strange stories compelling, Imagine Studios ability to bring these stories to the big screen, or a combination of all of the above, but I’ve got to say, American Made not only surprised me, but quickly became one of my favorites in a relatively dry release landscape until later in the Fall.
American Made takes place at the tail end of the 70’s during Carter’s presidency, and ends in ‘86 at the peak of Reagan’s, right before the Iran-Contra scandal broke. The film covers the U.S.’s involvement in South America during this era expertly, painting the CIA and various government agencies as being hypocritical, contradictory, and corrupt, giving each character we meet in the film their own crazy motivation that we somehow end up believing. Our main character, Barry Seal, has an amazing arc which is made all the more entertaining knowing that the film is based on true events. Cruise’s character starts out as a pilot for the TWA, flying commercial flights to Europe, while also smuggling Cuban cigars on the side. When his behavior catches the attention of a CIA agent played by Domhnall Gleeson, Seal gets blackmailed into a mutually beneficial deal where he gets to fly top of the line planes to take pictures of South American freedom fighters from the sky. Barry’s so good at his job he soon takes on additional jobs, one of which leads him to befriending the Medellin Cartel, the infamous group whose members include Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa. Barry spends the next few years performing a balancing act, doing enough increasingly difficult government work to get the freedom to operate outside the law, enough cartel work to load his pockets off of cocaine cash to keep his family rich and safe, and enough private work to make sure the non-corrupt portions of the government never caught on to his actions.
Something the film did so right was in choosing to operate as a comedy and not a documentary. Instead of telling this story in a boring, Netflix documentary special sort of way, or even spreading it out over hours in a Narcos-style drama, the story exists perfectly within the realm of a larger than life comedy. The two vital pieces to this success is in Cruise playing the lead and the way the film itself was shot. Tom Cruise is hands down one of the most magnetic and marketable actors in the game right now, and he brings his same brand of charm and star power that he always does to this role. It doesn’t matter how much he loses his faux-southern accent throughout the film, if it wasn’t for Cruise’s smile and line delivery, Barry Seal would not be a compelling or likable enough character to watch on screen. The other piece that really ties it all together is the choice to shoot the film handheld, utilizing a rather interesting assortment of shots. The entire film feels super dynamic, and there’s the same rush felt on screen whether Barry is at home trying to keep his family together, or up in the sky getting shot at by Nicaraguan rebels. The handheld style also makes the film feel like it’s almost a documentary at times as well, where surprising dialogue or character decisions earn a whip-pan or harsh zoom for emphasis. All of this combined with some solid editing turns what could otherwise be a disaster into a Fall treat at the theater.
Theater or Digital: Either, depending how much you love Tom Cruise.
Let me know in the comments if you end up seeing American Made and whether or not it works for you. I feel like all the elements that worked for me could easily turn off another viewer. All in all, I think the subject matter was presented in the best way possible, and leaves the viewer with a rather interesting taste in their mouth towards the U.S.’s past and current involvement with foreign affairs in this hemisphere.