AMERICAN MADE (USA/15A/115 mins)
Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons.
THE PLOT: Civilian aircraft pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) has a line going smuggling Cuban cigars into the US. He’s caught by CIA Agent Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Instead of jail time, Barry is recruited into the CIA as a covert pilot. Flying low over South American countries, he takes photos of insurgents and military camps. All of this is unknown to his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and his children. Schafer moves him to a sleepy Arkansas town, where Barry’s operations expand. His actions draw the attention of the infamous Medellin cartel in Colombia. Barry is soon diverting AK-47s to Colombia rather than Nicaragua and assisting in drug smuggling into the US. He’s wanted by everyone, but his wealth and fame make him untouchable. Then things get really complicated…
THE VERDICT: After his economically-made but inventive indie ‘The Wall’, Doug Liman returns to mainstream filmmaking with ‘American Made’. Re-teaming with Tom Cruise, Liman’s latest is based on a true story. It would have to be a true story (of sorts) to be in any way credible. For this is a mind-boggling, multi-strand story that just couldn’t be made up. Truth is certainly stranger than fiction. Writer Gary Spinelli plays up the Tony Montana-style myth of the ‘American Dream’ here, but makes Barry’s commitment to his family a priority too.
Barry Seal was something else. A cocky and supremely confident man who laughed danger in the face, he found himself in some pretty hairy situations, playing different sides (CIA, DEA, FBI) off each other. He had so much money that he ran out of space at home to hide it – which is the butt of a number of jokes. It’s a role that is clearly tailor-made for Cruise, his innate charm and movie-star quality making the character funny and engaging. It’s a much better fit for him than ‘The Mummy’, in which he was miscast. As the plot twists and turns like crazy, Cruise anchors it all and manages to keep Barry grounded even in the most unlikely of situations.
It’s a bright and breezy caper, but that comes at a narrative cost. There’s little attempt to dig deeper into Barry’s psyche. In this telling at least, he seemed to say yes to everything asked of him without ever questioning it or seriously pondering the risks to himself and his family. That’s not so much Cruise’s fault – it’s more Spinelli’s. For such a colourful character, the script is surprisingly light on what made Barry tick. Maybe it was the money, the fame, the rush of adrenaline, the power trip… Maybe he was just a small cog in a large machine that kept changing direction. The script never really settles on what exactly. It may lack some substance, but it’s an enjoyable film that boggles the mind as much as it entertains.
RATING: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    After the success of “Edge Of Tomorrow”, Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman team up again, this time for a true-crime comedy-thriller. The story centres on a TWA pilot Barry Seal who ran drugs, money and guns between Latin America and the U.S. in the 1980s with support from the CIA. He ended up profiting hugely from his operations and eventually became embroiled in what blew up into the Iran-Contra scandal. The smart script by Gary Spinelli bears similarities to the likes of “War Dogs”, “Gold” and “American Hustle” all of which were fact based, absurd tales of corruption by individuals, companies and governments. Seeing Tom Cruise don his aviator shades even also recalls his good old “Top Gun” days!

    In 1978 Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) was a pilot for TWA with a nice little illegal smuggling business on the side, ferrying Cuban cigars into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. When he’s approached by CIA man Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) to fly undercover for them instead, skimming Central America to take surveillance photos, he’s only too quick to accept. It’s not long before the operation has expanded to include deliveries of guns to the right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua, whom Reagan is supporting in a guerrilla war. His antics catch the attention of Pablo Escobar’s drug barons who become involved, taking the weapons and getting Seal into narcotics trafficking, with wad loads of cash proving quite the incentive. Matters start spiralling out of control. He finds himself lying to his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) about his job and to Shafer (Domhnall Gleeson) about his “extracurricular activities”. Needing to escape the law in Louisiana, he moves his family to a small town in Arkansas, where his home soon transforms into a palace and even Lucy, initially very reluctant, is impressed – business is booming. However, the arrival of his loser brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) complicates matters not to mention the fact that the large amount of money flowing in is getting much attention from the locals.
    “American Made” doesn’t do anything particularly different but it’s an incredible story and proves to be consistently entertaining, flashy and enjoyable. Tom Cruise gives a vibrant and engaging portrayal of the real life pilot turned CIA recruit who ran one of the biggest covert operations in history. No doubt his star power will ensure solid box office returns. He makes good use of his usual charisma and playfulness and fully commits himself to the role. It’s good to see that Gleeson is also effective as the ruthless CIA operative eager to get his job done. Sarah Wright Olsen Seal’s wife is really a secondary consideration to the film but she does her best with the scant material she has to work with. It’s a breezy, lightweight, humorous and fun movie that makes a joke out of the absurdity of the shenanigans that went on, even pointing fingers at the American
    government’s meddling foreign policy and lies. Worth checking out, if even just for the 80’s hairstyles, dress and soundtrack!