This is what Tom Cruise does best. Let him prance around in fancy shirts and sunglasses. Let him smirk at people, stare into their eyes and ask them to trust him. This is much better that what he got offered in The Mummy (2017), a misdirected film in many ways. American Made the perfect summer action flick for Cruise, because he is an actor who floats on an aura of celebrity instead of acting chops and action films is where he is in his element. Fun, fast-paced and not too demanding for both actors and viewers.
The story of American Made fits in the recent hype of get-rich-fast films that was kick-started by The Wolf of Wall Street. Other similar stories are found in War Dogs (2016), Gold (2016) and the films and books about Howard Marks: Mr. Nice (2010). Cruise’s character Barry Seal is not the yelling, erratic man that DiCaprio portrayed but more someone who is simply bored with his life and says yes to anything. The CIA, personified by Domhnall Gleeson, just drags him into it and he does whatever they say. When the Colombian cartels and Central American insurgents then start making demands too, he keeps on saying yes and ends up working for everyone.
Speaking of Domhnall Gleeson, his CIA agent is a great side character. Not exactly intimidating, but slippery and not to be trusted. The film is light on the side characters. Seal’s family and co-pilots stay largely unknown and Pablo Escobar is little more than a cameo in the story. Instead, we see many recordings of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to firmly anchor this film in a certain era. The color schemes also forcefully stamp this movie in the 70s, but it is little more than embellishment. The story is all about impromptu adventures and about Tom Cruise the actor.
American Made is above all fast-paced and fun. It has no stomach for morality tales, to the point that when things inevitably start to get bad and really bad, Seal’s family doesn’t seem to suffer much and comes out of it without much tears. It does make you wonder whether it was possible for Barry Seal to step away from all these crime adventures. Basically, from the moment Domhnall Gleeson approaches him and talks about off the record business, he is trapped, both by his own enthusiasm and by the system.
The editing is a bit frantic but effective. The film did feel a bit cluttered, because some random shots of cartoons to explain the logistics jumped into it, and some webcam recordings that really should have been cut from the film since they paused the story too much. The action scenes in Colombia are well shot, both comedic and exciting.
Above all, this is the kind of movie that both Tom Cruise and we the regular film-goers need to cleanse our palate from a series of disappointing franchise-blockbusters this summer.