In most Tom Cruise films, he plays the guy who mostly keeps his cool, and is usually the smartest man in the room. In the highly entertaining biopicture/black comedy American Made
, he gets to play someone who thinks he's the smartest man in the room, when in reality, everybody around him is setting him up to take a fall. Cruise's Barry Seal, who in real life was a man recruited by the CIA in the late 70s, and throughout the early 80s was involved in some shady government business involving everything from drug cartels to the Iran-Contras, is a man who gets swept up in everything, never once realizing that he's in over his head from the beginning.
Director Doug Liman (who previously worked with Cruise on 2014's Edge of Tomorrow
) takes the true story of Barry Seal, and twists it into an energetic and at times comedic "stranger than fiction" story. Much of the details here have been fabricated or twisted for the sake of the narrative, but there's enough factual information here that you don't feel like you're getting cheated out of the entire truth. This also at least is not a fluff piece about the man. As charming as Cruise comes across in the film (a nice change of pace from his awful turn in The Mummy
from May), the movie makes no attempt to hide the fact that Seal is essentially a terrible person, driven by greed and taking one too many risks. Barry has all the cocky swagger of your typical Tom Cruise performance (since he's a pilot, it's impossible not to think about Top Gun
in certain scenes), but this time it's a ruse. Barry has no idea what he's doing, or getting into. He just thinks he knows.
The film's narrative is reminiscent of Goodfellas
, in that it condenses a period of time in a man's life into a series of events defined by the time the story is set, and the rise and fall of its subject matter. Barry Seal starts off as a bored TWA pilot who is tired of shuttling tourists back and forth to different destinations. At a hotel bar, he is picked out by a CIA handler (Domhnall Gleeson) who wants to hire Barry to fly over spots in Latin America dealing with illegal weapons, and snap photos of areas from the air. Barry's own greed and personal ambitions leads to him getting involved in drug trafficking with Pablo Escobar, and dealing with Noriega. The American government even wants to employ him further, first delivering guns to the Iran-Contras, and then transporting them to America for training. The only reason why Barry gets in so deep with all of this is that he seldom stops to think about what he's actually doing. It's all about the money to him, and the lavish lifestyle that his wife back home (Sarah Wright Olsen) and their children begin to enjoy because of it.
follows Barry's rise and eventual fall, as when things eventually start to fall apart, everyone turns their back on him and pretend they have nothing to do with him. He struggles to stay ahead of the game, but by that point, he's in too deep with too many people on opposing sides. It's a fairly typical story when you think back on it about someone who was lured in by wealth, and loses it all because he wanted too much. But what sets the film apart is how Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli keep the action constantly running for the nearly two hours the film runs. It never lags, and Cruise is definitely cranking the charm up to the maximum effort here. Not only that, the movie is frequently laugh out loud funny in ways you might not expect. You're definitely watching a somewhat sanitized studio effort, but it's one that remains constantly entertaining from beginning to end.
And it's really just nice to see Cruise using his usual on-screen charisma to play a character who's definitely a scumbag. Behind that large smile and cool attitude is a man who simply doesn't know when enough is enough, and even puts certain members of his own family at risk because of his own actions. It's a refreshing change of pace for Cruise, who usually plays faultless or charming guys. Yeah, he's gone outside of his comfort zone in past roles, but he doesn't do it often, and it's always nice when it does happen. Here, Cruise is selling this character 100%, and it's a great role for him, as well as a strong performance. His on-screen charm that hides a somewhat rotten personality here perfectly complements the film's darkly comedic take on the life of Seal.
What American Made
does is make us root for a man we know we shouldn't. It has a great time setting him up for a fall, and we kind of enjoy watching it slowly happen. But we also kind of hope he'll pull it off somehow. It's a testament to Cruise's star-power that he can make a character like this into someone we can get behind. This is a movie that is not only very enjoyable and frequently funny, but it also gives us a side of Cruise that we seldom see, and that I would kind of personally like to see more of.