American Made is one of the surprises of the fall season. It’s one of the better Tom Cruise films to have come out during this decade, and it’s definitely better then this summer’s The Mummy. With this film, Cruise reunites with director Doug Liman, who previously directed him in 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, a highly underrated film.
In this film, based on a true story, Barry Seal (Cruise) is a commercial airline pilot who gets employed by CIA Agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleason) to do reconnaissance missions for the CIA by flying over locations in South America and taking photos. As Seal starts to do more jobs for the CIA, like becoming a courier for General Noriega in Panama and running guns to the Contras, he comes into contact with the Medellin Cartel, who asks him to smuggle cocaine back into the US. Within a few short years, Seal makes more money than he’s ever dreamed of since he works for both the CIA and the drug cartel, but as things slowly start to collapse, Seal will do anything to save his own skin.
For the subject matter at hand, Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli play with it fast and loose. Just when you think the story can’t get crazier, it does. I enjoyed how it didn’t take itself too seriously, and the tone, for the most part being light-hearted, stayed consistent. Cruise seems like he hasn’t had this much fun in ages, and this film shows that if you pair him with the right material, he’s still got it. It’s also no surprise that teaming up with Liman brings out the best in Cruise. Charismatic and charming, Cruise does make you root for a slimeball of a guy. The visual style that Liman and his DP Cesar Charlone bring to the film is unique, and they do a good job in visually highlighting the locations in the film with a distinctly different color. Like with this month’s It, that was also set in the 80s, Liman doesn’t bash you over the head that this is a film that takes place in the 80s. Also, the film does make concepts that seem complicated easier to understand, with map animations and documentary footage mixed in.
There are a few drawbacks that I had with this film. Since the film primarily focuses on Cruise’s Barry, other then him, the other characters felt underdeveloped. I wanted to learn more about certain people, like for example, the people who made up his Snow Birds team. There were also story threads that didn’t bring much to the table, like a subplot involving Barry’s brother-in-law JB (Caleb Landry Jones) that they could have cut out completely. There are also characters in the film, that after a scene or two, completely disappear from the film. It makes you wonder if there was a much longer cut that Liman and his editors cut down from. Finally, the score from Christophe Beck (also reuniting with Liman after Edge of Tomorrow) was okay, as well as the music selections. They could have done a better job with that.
Overall, American Made won’t win any awards, but I think you will have fun with it. Between this and Edge of Tomorrow, hopefully Cruise and Liman continue to work with one another and this is a start of a long-term collaboration. I dug it, and it’s a breezy film. As I said before, this is one of the better films that Cruise has made in the last few years. If you’re looking for something to watch in the theater, you won’t go wrong with this.