‘American Made’ is a semi-biographical account of certain events in the life of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot turned CIA-informant who doubled as a drug-smuggler. Liman- Cruise combo had previously made the excellent ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’, and Cruise badly needed to bounce back from the fiasco that was ‘The Mummy’ earlier this year. Well, ‘American Made’ delivers, for most part!
Liman knows hows to capitalize on Cruise’s charm (even at the age of 55), and make an entertaining movie around him. Liman has already said openly that this movie won’t follow the pattern of a docu-drama and would not adhere purely to what transpired in Seal’s life – i.e. historical accuracy will remain questionable (for instance, Seal was a plump, half-bald dude unlike the flawless-looking Cruise; Seal had married thrice unlike what’s shown in the movie; even the timelines differ from actuality). It’s strictly a commercial vehicle (come on, the tagline says ‘Based on a TRUE LIE’ – what more do you need?), with neat production values (the 80s setting is wonderfully rendered), first-rate cinematography and an assemblage of taut, breezy performances. Cruise is definitely in his zone here, juggling largely between the emotions of elation and discomfort. A tough job indeed, to condense someone’s life into a 115 minute movie, but ‘American Made’ trots along like a little pony that seems to relish taking us on a fun-ride.
There are umpteen number of cackle-worthy occasions integrated adeptly into the screenplay (written by Gary Spinelli, with some obvious improvisation from Liman & Cruise) that at times, make the viewer exclaim “What the hell! Seriously?” but in a pleasurable way. Seal tries to poke fun at the characters around him – As a TWA pilot, he deliberately quivers the plane he’s flying just to disturb the co-pilot’s and passengers’ slumber, while letting out a sly smile directed at the audience.
He offers a pack of cash to the person whose property he crash-lands his plane (carrying large amounts of cocaine) on, and borrows his bicycle to escape from the cops; he is shown happily partying with the Medellin Cartel, even when he works for the CIA; at one point he has so much currency with him that he’s stacked some of it along with the garbage pile… plenty of such larger-than- life yet funny instances that make the viewer dissolve into laughter. I laughed out loud when the local PD, the DEA, the FBI and the ATF all arrive at Seal’s hangar at the same time to arrest him – what could be the odds of such a thing happening (for real)? But does it work as a scene in a film? Hell yeah, it does!
Bold move to subvert the obvious sobriety which is usually associated with movies/TV shows that deal with the National Agencies or the notorious drug mafia of South America (and loaded with heaps of life-and-death situations) – the crew is never seen trying to inject an aura of despair – even when Lucy Seal (played by Sarah Wright, who’s at least 20 years younger to Cruise) laments on how she cannot trust what her husband says or does, they still hold onto each other.
But… but… but the movie does feel a little stretched than required, especially towards the climax portions – we sense imminent danger when Seal chooses to rat out the cartel and when his brother-in-law does some pretty-indiscreet stuff (like carrying a money-bag in public with notes sticking out through the zipper, naturally garnering attention of the local PD, amongst others). We know there’s a twist coming – one that offers closure. Domhnall Gleeson surely seems to having a ball playing Seal’s CIA contact Monty Schafer. Cruise apparently did all(or most) of the flying himself – an amazing feat, as these scenes looked spectacular. We need Cruise in smaller-budget films (and less in franchise flicks, except maybe for the M.I series) where he can perform without worrying about the box-office outcome. After all, Cruise is still “the gringo that always delivers”.
Verdict: Refreshingly breezy action-comedy!
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Writer by Profession, Wanderer by Passion.