“American Made” (2017)
Running Time: minutes
Written by: Gary Spinelli
Directed by: Doug Liman
Featuring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda
Barry Seal: [voice over] “My name is Barry Seal. Some of this really happened. It really did.”
Whenever I talk about a movie featuring Tom Cruise I feel I have to say that I am in fact a huge fan of his. From his early appearances all the way through to “American Made” (2017) I love watching him onscreen, I find him appealing as well as possibly at his level, one of the most fearless actors around – he will do anything to try and make a movie work, as well as fearing no genre – in fact you will find it difficult to find another person working in front of the camera today that has literally appeared in every major genre going, a rare feat indeed. Of course in saying that it does not mean that all of this work has been either a critical hit or a financial one – one need only look at this years “The Mummy” (2017) for an example of both. After a number years of action films comes what could generously be called a drama, but in fact is more an action/comedy than anything else, which is a shame as the story of pilot Barry Seal could have been to the 1980s political climate what the excellent “Three Kings” (1999) was to the Gulf War. Sadly that is not to be as the only thing that is lacking with this movie is a decent script that a strong talented director, in this case Doug Liman, and a strong star could get behind. Truly in this political climate it would have been a gift to show how little progress has been made in the US in terms of cover ups as well as double-dealing Presidents.
“American Made” tells the story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a TWA pilot, who was recruited by the CIA, to assist in countering the emerging communist threat that was perceived to be a serious threat in Central America. Seal’s role in this major CIA covert operation led in turn to his involvement with the Medellin cartel, which ultimately embarrassed the Reagan White House after the Iran-Contra scandal became public.
While watching this film and reflecting on how the US has constantly interfered with foreign governments as well as setting up dictators and paying for those despots for the past twenty years, it is no wonder many people either don’t trust Americans or simply do not like them. The result of last years US election, the success of the candidate Donald Trump while the turmoil of the race relations within the US boils to the surface it is no wonder some narcissistic egomaniac like Barry Seal was able to play both sides of the coin while maintaining a relationship (although i seriously doubt it is accurately portrayed here) with his wife.
Director Doug Liman has recruited Tom Cruise for the main part, from the outside one of the biggest egos out there to play someone that appears to be larger than life, while being able to straddle some kind of fantasy life that would make James Bond jealous. Cruise who has played plenty of characters that have outsized egos seems like the perfect fit for this role, his comic timing as well good looks make him seem like some kind of superhero in this movie, except for the fact that this is a film that at its core is about Presidential corruption, murder, illegal drugs, illegal arms sales as well as inherent corruption of not only the CIA but any number of government agencies – and we are supposed to be cheering for someone profiting out of this – I am at the age that this makes me feel uncomfortable, because there is probably any number of innocent people that have been at best wounded, at worst killed by these actions.
So where “American Made” falls short in the biggest way is in its one note script, written by Gary Spinelli, someone who has had no experience in this kind of real life drama, that contains not only many levels of complexity but is also a period piece being set in the 1980s. Spinelli at best has written a reductive story about what it means to be a narcissus living in the US at the moment, where you are only concerned with the ‘me’ as well what it means to be able to make money at the cost of anyone or anything else, that is what Charlie Sheen called being a ‘winner’ all those years ago – it is a self indulgent story that a teenager may find great because it shows how you can get ahead at the expense of almost everyone else. This is what was wrong with Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2014), which became a mad mess as well as puerile – it doesn’t hold a mirror up to these issues, it celebrates them for all the reasons that an audience should not only be repulsed by them, but also ask why these people are not held accountable.
With all of that said this is the movie that the producers, who count Brian Grazer and Ron Howard amount them, wanted to make, they hired the writer as well as Doug Liman to direct, so they got what they asked for. My only real reaction is that this was made for US audience as well as people who want an action comedy to watch because there is no real depth to this at all – it is all surface with no real consequences or stakes, someone who is looking for something deeper to worry about should go elsewhere – this truly is all surface and what many ‘American Made’ films have come to represent.
As I have said Tom Cruise can act and has shown this time and again, but not in recent memory – it appears there will not be a drama in his future, but I cannot help but think of the Tom Cruise who has garnered three Oscar nominations as well as someone who can show real empathy onscreen – my hope is that he will start turning in some mature performances sometime in the future – I would rather see him turn into a Paul Newman than a Charles Bronsan type. In terms of the supporting cast, Cruise attracts quality, so we see the always impressive Domhnall Gleeson, as well as budding character actor Jesse Plemons, with bubbly Sarah Wright as Seals long suffering wife. They are all great but it is Wright who is given the least to do, except look gorgeous against Cruises lead performance – Cruise would like to think he is eternally young but she looked too much his junior for this to be as believable as the film-makers would like you to think. As usual playing the wife Wright gets very little of her own arc, her character, if it called be called that, is not developed at all, leaving me wondering if she is only there to serve some eye candy for the predominantly male audience the producers are expecting. Such a shame but the film makers seem to have forgotten that while the film is most definitely set in the 1980s, it was not made in that same decade.
I will be the first to admit that if not for the current political climate I may have loved this movie, it is full of action as well as humor and is most definitely all surface, something that may have been a fun Saturday night blast. It is like a cross between “Top Gun” (1986) and believe it or not “Valkyrie” (2008) in Tom Cruise parlance. But because we are living in this era of what has become fake news this becomes a reflection of these times – filmmakers have to understand that if they are making a movie that is ‘based on a true story’ unless you are one of the rare directors that can straddle a fence of drama/true story/action then you should back off otherwise you end up with a movie like “American Made”.
Something to note is that “American Made” is a Universal Pictures project which at this stage of the year is interesting, if you look since January they have had some successes with “The Fate of the Furious” as well as “Despicable Me 3” but all of their films have been literally rubbish, all completely forgettable as well as their giant franchises showing signs of serious wear. The only great movies that they have are not even been theirs, they are only distributed by them, those being “Get Out” and “Split” which are Blumhouse productions. Its a sad state of affairs going into the last quarter of the year when your hopes for any kind of serious filmmaking plaudits is “American Made”.
With all that said as well as a low rating from me you will still have fun with this movie but if you look past the façade it may leave a bad taste in your mouth as well as a hollow feeling in your heart. I just wish Cruise would commit and lend himself to some real dramas with real teeth, as without some ‘real’ roles as well as age and a possible fading star he is running out of time to make a real mark with some great directors.
“American Made” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.