American Made Plot Summary:
Based on the true story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a TWA pilot who gets recruited by the CIA to take pictures of hostile territory in Central America and gets embroiled in drug smuggling for Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and the Medellin cartel.
Director Doug Liman needs to hire whoever cut the Deadpool or It trailers. On the surface, his latest collaboration with Tom Cruise looked completely forgettable, but once again, it’s false advertising. It’s Edge of Tomorrow all over again. That film appeared to be the biggest yawn-fest in the history of movies. Word of mouth finally willed me to see it, and as we all know, it’s a stellar film.
American Made looked to be the most standard, run of the mill crime movie directed by the likes of David Ayer. Once again though, Liman and Cruise deliver. Liman does a great job here, but we’ll get to him in a minute. This movie works because Tom Cruise is 100% in the zone.
The character is a great one. Barry Seal is your typical airline pilot, full accent and all. What is it with that pilot accent? When you get a pilot’s license, does the accent come with it? Sorry for the diversion. At any rate, the first scene establishes Barry right away. You can tell he’s very skilled, and with one risky maneuver with his plane, you get he’s bored with just being a simple airline pilot. That’s why when he quickly accepts the CIA’s risky offer, you instantly buy it. That’s good screenwriting.
This is such a tailor-made role for Cruise. Barry is cocky as hell, but not annoying about it. Cruise’s likability makes you root like hell for the guy, no matter how many ridiculous situations he gets himself into. And that’s exactly what happens. At first he’s flying over dangerous terrain taking pictures, but eventually he gets involved in smuggling cocaine, guns and actual people, specifically Contra rebels so they can be trained in the United States. It’s completely absurd, but entertaining as hell.
This is where Liman’s great direction comes in. The pacing is quick and crisp, very Ocean’s 11-esque, but in the air. Liman adds great little touches, whether it be funny voiceovers from Cruise, or animated sequences, the movie has a fantastic rhythm to it. My only gripe is that Liman is too reliant on popular songs early on to tell the story, which works fine, but it’s just bad timing. We’ve seen so much of this recently. It’s definitely a trope that needs a timeout.
What makes Barry’s story so good is that the more danger he puts himself in, the more successful he actually becomes. Anytime you think he’s going to die in a prison, he ends up getting a job offer. Barry has a great line about having his hand in every piece of the pie. He’s making so much money, he actually runs out of places to put it. It’s like if you hoard old newspapers and run out of space, but here it’s with stacks and stacks of cash. It’s also fun to see Barry try and juggle everything. It creates a lot of great unassuming comedic bits that Cruise nails as only he can.
My one big complaint with American Made is that all the supporting characters are just okay. This really is all Cruise. You got Domhnall Gleeson as the shifty CIA agent who hires Barry. There’s Jorge (Alejandro Edda), Pablo Escobar’s right hand man, who gives Barry all these insane orders. Then of course you got Barry’s spunky wife, Lucy, played by Sarah Wright. All three performances are solid and play off Cruise well, but there isn’t a ton there.
They also try and mix in Caleb Landry Jones as a plot device, but he’s a total throwaway character. Barry also hires other pilots to expand his business, but they are only mildly entertaining because of how Liman directs their scenes. Jesse Plemons also serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
As we all know with these movies, it all comes crashing down for Barry. This is where the film lulls a bit. The ending is very anti-climactic and just sort of happens. Once again though, Liman saves some of the weaker parts of the script with his unique touch, but it still felt like an awkward wrap up.
This won’t be anything that shows up on a “Best of” list or Oscar consideration, but it’s definitely a film where you get your money’s worth. It’s an entertaining, well-paced romp that does what all good “Based on a True Story” movies do, which is to get you more interested in the subject matter.
More importantly though, it’s a vintage Tom Cruise performance.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)