by Ellen Case
A description of Barry Seal is often repeated in the movie “American Made”: “The gringo who always delivers.” The quote can also apply to Tom Cruise and Doug Liman on their second collaboration after the critically acclaimed “Edge of Tomorrow.” In this collaboration, Cruise and Liman tackled a historical story so incredible that it is barely believable.
“American Made” is the story of Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot who is recruited by the CIA to fly to South America and take photos of communists. The government begins using him to make trades with a general in Panama. Seal, wanting higher income, starts smuggling cocaine into Louisiana after teaming up with the Medellin Cartel. After a deal goes wrong, Seal is moved to Mena, Arkansas where he receives a huge piece of land, his own personal airport and a job transporting guns to the Contras for the American government. There, Seal starts a successful side business dealing arms and drugs for people like Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa.
“American Made” is neither a historical-dramatic biopic nor the action-adventure film that is typical for Cruise. The balance between both genres contributes positive and negative aspects to the film. While it tells a fascinating story along with incredible airplane stunts from Cruise that keep the audience engaged, it fails to delve into the characters and historical setting. The story doesn’t explore much emotion but instead flies by faster than one of Seal’s aircrafts.
However, for this classic rock-infused film, the lack of depth is clearly intentional. Liman focuses on the instability of Seal’s adventures rather than digging into his motives. Liman mirrors this side of Seal with messy but vintage cinematography that draws the audience into this hectic world.
The shining star in this film is, unsurprisingly, Tom Cruise. After a run of box office disappointments and adrenaline-filled popcorn films, Cruise takes on a character very unlike his typical roles—he only runs once for a few seconds. Barry Seal may not be an honest historical description, but he is a likable anti-hero who doesn’t realize that he is only a helpless pawn in bigger, stronger and smarter men’s games. Cruise, usually the one playing the winner, embraces this loser with enthusiasm and comedy.
The supporting cast also give strong performances. Domhnall Gleeson is entertaining as Seal’s CIA handler who is anxious to show his worth past his office cubicle. Barry’s loyal and hardworking wife (Sarah Wright Olsen) shines despite the obvious age difference between her and her on-screen husband.
The film is a fun and interesting ride that meets expectations and reminds the world what Tom Cruise is truly capable of as an actor.