Tom Cruise did some damage to his reputation this past summer with “The Mummy,” so at least this earned him back a little bit of street cred.
“American Made” is the based-on-a-true-story tale of Barry Seal, a commercial airlines pilot who began smuggling guns for the CIA and cocaine for the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s. Cruise stars alongside Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright and Jesse Plemons as Doug Liman directs.
The trailer for this film seemed pretty mundane, to put it nicely. It’s not that it looked bad, but given Cruise’s recent slump, partnered with the typically bland September release date and a sense of “been there, done that,” I just wasn’t really looking forward to this, even though I do tend to enjoy Cruise and love me a period piece. And “American Made” is essentially exactly what the trailers pitch it as, so how much the trailers gave you pleasure will likely equal your level of enjoyment from this film.
There is a lot going on in this film, and a 117-minute runtime isn’t enough to do all the stories justice. Seal lived an incredibly fascinating life, and if Liman had just stuck to what Seal knew and saw then perhaps that would have been sufficient enough for the film. However, he crams upwards of 10 years of events and several threads into the runtime, and it leads to some lulls, pacing issues and a lack of identity.
There’s a little bit of “Narcos” with the involvement of Pablo Escobar and the cartel, a little bit of “Goodfellas” because of the setting and the style the film is shot in and a dash of “Wolf of Wall Street” because a hardworking, good looking and charismatic underachiever suddenly makes more money than he knows what to do with by illegal means. We’ve been down all these roads before, and those roads led to much better mediums than “American Made.”
Cruise’s star may be fading in the U.S., but he shows here he can still carry a movie. Unlike “The Mummy,” Cruise is able to play a cocky jerk — his trademark — and, for the most part, is why this film works; he gets some good one-liners and seems to be having fun. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much arch to his character, as we are introduced to him flying commercial planes then in the very next scene he is recruited by the CIA. We don’t really get too much of a look into his life before the smuggling began, and the struggles or lack of fulfillment in his life that would lead him to take on such a venture.
The aesthetics of the film are all mostly good, with a solid soundtrack and production value that places you in the world of 1980 Columbia and Arkansas, and the cinematography by Cesar Charlone emphasizes use of handheld cameras, which adds to the dizzying and frantic nature of Seal’s story.
There are some things to like about “American Made,” but they all feel like smaller parts ripped from better movies, or at least stories that each deserve their own better movie. Still, fans of Cruise should find enough to enjoy here, and if you want to get out the theater but killer clowns and spy sequels aren’t your thing, then you can do worse at the movies right now. Unlike Seal, however, just know what you’re getting into before making the call.
Critic’s rating: 5 out of 10.