Tom Cruise has a way with his movies. Top Gun, Mission Impossible, and Edge of Tomorrow are all slobber-knockers of high-impact, action cinema. Cruise adds his unique action skills to his movies every single time. So, it’s almost a perfect fit for the action star to lead a movie about illegal drug couriers and spy planes.
In American Made, exemplary airline pilot Barry Seal is recruited by the CIA to take espionage photos of Central America. On a mission, he gets counter-recruited by the Colombian drug cartel to ferry drugs to the US. Throughout his career, Seal ping-pongs his allegiance between different factions, cartels, and bureaus. Had it not been for its unique execution, American Made plays right into Cruise’s alley with tense suspense and action.
It’s not, though. The film follows the thread established by Breaking Bad, The Wolf of Wall Street, and most especially War Dogs. It’s the fledgling rags-to-illegal-riches-to-rags genre. Like its predecessors, American Made harmonizes to its genre’s beats faithfully, albeit roughly around the edges. Its pacing, however, suffers a lack of soul that its predecessors shine at.
Tom Cruise, for all his acting bravado, brings too much of himself to the table. American Made comes off as a film about Tom Cruise rather than Barry Seal, the character he’s supposed to portray. Seal’s up-and-down journey comes off as too smooth. He never has a chance to breathe as a character. It’s always action pieces and problems one after the other. Unlike Wolf, Seal never finds himself intoxicated with orgies or drugs. Its pacing is too perfect. We all know he’s going to make it to the ending without a problem.
For all its pacing problems, what director Doug Liman gets right is a unique mockumentary direction for the true-story tale. American Made balances between action, drama, and comedy. Complete with shots and interviews from its time period, it sheds valuable light on its plot’s context. American Made is also an exploration of the troubling times of its decade. Liman’s direction is raw, almost purposely unfinished. Seal even often speaks through the lens of a VHS tape (the reason for which is revealed as a small plot twist).
American Made is entertaining to watch. Doug Liman never quite reaches the caliber he brought with Edge of Tomorrow, but American Made kept me glued to my seat. As far as Cruise films go, American Made is a breather that washes the foul taste of The Mummy away from my mouth.