Viewed from a video-diary recording of an 80’s camcorder, Tom Cruise’s narration opens, “My name is Barry Seal. Some of this shit really happened. It really did.”, mapping out a radar in which this frothy action film, directed by Doug Liman, operates.
American Made is a snarky, glorified one-man’s-downfall story.
Revelling in its excesses and ever increasing tall-tales delivered by its protagonist; Barry Seal (Cruise), an 80’s TWA airline pilot turned illicit smuggler, as he constructs an effortless empire awaiting the slightest gust of turbulent wind to send it all careening toward the ground.
Comical animation sequences to tie together timelines without the necessity of gritty dogmatic dialogue.
Liman’s direction is knowing of both subject and audience, simplifying the US’s ‘War On Drugs’ campaign and the communist involvement to its lowest terms, using comical animation sequences to tie together timelines without the necessity of gritty dogmatic dialogues. Writer Gary Spinolli’s pitching of this film is, at times, overly condescending as well, particularly in the way he repeats lines of basic narration to ensure no airheads are left behind.
Framed through Seal’s nostalgic narration to a camcorder, American Made, is the unreliable memoir of a man whose charmed life and greed brought about his fall from grace. We’re expected to elicit sympathy for an absentee father whose wife (an abominably drawn and lacklustre, Sarah Wright), after a haughty outset, readily accepts her husband’s criminality as the world’s richest pawn in a political game of cat and mouse.
Equally, subsidiary character Domhnall Gleeson’s CIA operative shady Schaffer, strolls in and out where the story requires, and Liman never utilises him further. A real waste of Gleeson’s acting arsenal, squandered as a placeholder; much like the wife, the weirdo brother-in-law (played by everyone’s go-to weirdo, Caleb Landry-Jones) the buddy co-pilots and the borderline-offensively savage portrayal of anyone who was born in South America.
No, no. Liman is aware of what sells this movie - it’s Cruise.
From that cheeky smile, foppish mid-length hair and doing his own stunts, Cruise is this movie. He is commendably effortless in setting the audience at ease and slipping into Barry’s aviators, as if Top Gun only wrapped last week. He runs, jumps, does that bit of comedy to retain the humour and deflect all the reprehensible morality.
And all the more surprising: it is pleasurable.
As is watching a dog do tricks. But then, somewhere after twenty minutes or so, the novelty wears, the tricks wane and you start to worry whether the dog wants to do the tricks at all, or if it's real intentions are that it’s a greedy animal who is just interested in the attention and rewards.
American Made is fluff, with all the flair of modernity an erudite Liman displayed in his earlier iconic works, Go(1999) and Swingers (1996). This is a film whose aspirations are as simple as its audience – a turn-your-head-off action film, and if that’s what you’re after, you’ll get that and not much more. The workman-like turns of the levers as the plot flies through well-worn paths to its safe landing.