UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2017)

 

Director: Doug Liman

 

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons, Alejandro Edda, Caleb Landry Jones, Mauricio Mejía

Barry Seal had an eventful life.

 

Intel, reconnaissance, drug smuggling, weapons trafficking, White House favours

 

Whilst American Made has portrayed Seal’s life to an extravagant extent, the general bullet points of his life are depicted here. Thankfully, Doug Liman returns with a movie infinitely better than The Wall and has his buddy Tom Cruise on board and, crucially, in top form once more.

 

It's certainly the best of the 'American' action movies too (...Assassin, Heist)

Top TWA pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) is approached by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Gleeson) to fly recon mission over Central America – taking him to the likes of El Salvador, Honduras, Panama to take photos and get shot by angry insurgents. Years later, whilst liaising between the CIA and Panama, Seal is recruited by the Medellin Cartel to smuggle cocaine into the USA for a hefty reward each time. Well, the DEA isn't pleased about that, are they? In order to protect his family, Seal hurriedly relocates to Mena, Arkansas and then the money starts to roll right in.

 

Seal is later tasked to run guns to the Contras (US based Nicaraguan rebels) though they’re not interested in fighting any war, so a trade is made with the cartels for the guns. Annoyingly for Seal, the CIA and FBI eventually catch wind of this and aren’t too pleased, and only the President can help him. Probably.

 

After the colossal toilet blocker that was The Mummy, Tom Cruise needed a return to form and quickly finds his feet again with American Made. It’s surprisingly very good. By that I mean, having read the synopsis and from simply the name and look of the poster, I wasn’t overly enthused, it seemed like this would be another vehicle for Cruise to do action stuff. I was wrong.

 

American Made is plainly superficial and lacking a majorly compelling plot, however, Cruise sells the performance like an old pro having a blast. The real Barry Seal was more akin to Peter Griffin than Tom Cruise but Liman isn’t after Seal’s looks, he wanted his carefree soul to be the driving force, and that’s where Cruise fits the bill. This is a fast-paced movie that packs in an awful lot, hence the jumbled narrative but maybe that’s simply a subtle reflection of Seal’s life in general?

 

Cruise is great as the Mr. Sheen-smiled Seal and it’s definitely his best performance (and movie) in years. Dohmnall Gleeson, as the pen-pushing and slightly square Schafer, is brilliant and the initial exchange between Schafer and Seal is fantastic.

 

Another Tom Cruise movie, another (much) younger woman plays his sweetheart. This time it’s Sarah Wright, who is strong in her scenes without given an awful lot to do. It’s a vast step up from Annabelle Wallis’ performance in The Mummy. Shudder.

 

The visual look and feel of the movie is fairly grounded and down-to-earth. Capturing the look and feel of 1970s Central America well, and with the obligatory film grain, the movie has a genuine biography feel. With a soundtrack boasting the likes of George Harrison, Bellamy Brothers, Talking Heads and The Heavy, American Made was always going to sound awesome. Not content with simply being a toe-tapper, the songs complement the visuals perfectly.

 

Between the racing narrative, the movie switches to first-person recording where Cruise delivers a reminiscing commentary (years after the events, in 1986). This becomes jarring at times as the already snappy editing and electric pace leaves no time to breathe, let alone quickly adjust to flash-forwards. A simple narration would have been more effective.

 

Normally, a movie with little character development would fall flat, however, the writing and direction employed within American Made almost renders this a moot point. Seal’s family are pushed aside for the most part, Confederate child-catcher JB (Jones) comes and goes and no-one is really afforded the luxury of expansion. That said, this is Barry Seal’s life, and the movie covers all we need to know. I’m not overly bothered by his high-school crushes or pre-school exposition. However, it would only have served the movie that much more to have some proper depth.

 

With a thundering pace and fun energy, American Made is a winner and highlights Tom Cruise at his energetically charming best. There's even time for a no-gravity sex scene.

 

The aviators are still in full swing.

September 29th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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