I go back and forth on Tom Cruise. I get why he’s a movie star. He’s definitely an evolution of the 50s icons like Jimmy Stewart, William Holden and Joan Crawford; actors who may not have had a deep reservoir of talent but could use their charisma and presence to command the big screen. Cruise isn’t a great actor, but he is much better served in roles like Barry Seal in American Made, where he can capitalize on his inherent charm to give life to a character that could come off as just another asshole in the wrong hands. Cruise’s wheelhouse is in being an endearing asshole (Magnolia, Jerry Maguire).
American Made follows the somewhat true-life story of Seal who went from being a bored airline pilot, faking turbulence to give his passengers a quick jolt (I KNEW they did that), to being an agent for the CIA, taking pictures in Nicaragua. Hubris gets the better of him and he soon gets involved in drug trafficking, which our Reagan-era government was all too happy with, given the exposure it gave them to certain targets like Pablo Escobar and Manuel Noriega. As Seal’s CIA rep, Domhnall Gleason is a slyly aggressive bulldog, working Seal with ease and escalating his requests, as Seal’s riches spiral crazily out of control.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Swingers, and the completely forgotten and underrated Go) gives Made a spastic energy, jumping between time periods, highlighting the ridiculousness of what happened (or at least what the movie shows happened, Hollywood liberties and all that) in several moments that are honestly laughable (in a good way), and not shying away from the darkness (you kind of know how a film like Barry’s has to end).
Cruise is at his best here, and should definitely accept that movies like this serve him better than tripe like The Mummy. American Made also serves as a fair indictment over the politics that created the entire mess. At the same time President Ronald Reagan was on TV with wife Nancy, promoting her Just Say No to drugs agenda, he was tacitly supporting the cocaine game in order to justify his cold war shenanigans. And while the big picture is touched on throughout, at its center, the film is about the ease one man fell into his own trap, believing he could take on more and more, play all sides against each other, and come out unscathed.
My Grade – B+