American Made

Review by James Luxford

Directed by

Doug Liman

Starring

Domhnall Gleeson Sarah Wright Tom Cruise

Anticipation.

The director-star combo that spawned Edge of Tomorrow reunite to tell an intriguing true story.

Enjoyment.

Guns! Drugs! Planes! Reagan!

In Retrospect.

A forgettable flight of fantasy.

Tom Cruise gets a lot more than he bargained for in this madcap ’80s adventure.

Looking to capitalise on the huge success of their 2014 collaboration Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman and Tom Cruise team up to tell the crazy true story of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot coerced by an ambitious CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) to fly over Central America to monitor militant forces during the early 1980s. Buoyed by the thrill of his new secret life, Seal becomes embroiled in drug trafficking for the Medellin Cartel. As both worlds become more complicated, he must find a way to keep himself and his family safe.

After the scaled-back thrills of recent Aaron Taylor-Johnson war drama The Wall, Liman brings his signature explosive visuals and frenetic editing style back to the fore in American Made. As Cruise sets off on his Wolf of Wall Street-style escapade, where a charismatic rogue pushes a profitable scam to its limit, the film’s jukebox soundtrack, background news reel footage and Seal’s camcorder confessional serve as constant reminders of the period and setting.

Although it’s mostly entertaining seeing where Seal’s dodgy dealings land him, Liman always ensures that we are grounded in the reality of his situation. You may question whether you would do anything differently given the same choices, or what to do when you literally have more money than you can spend or store, but the film doesn’t fully answer one fundamental question: why go to all this risk?

For Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, it was all in the pursuit of excess; in the similarly-themed Gold, Matthew McConaughey’s character is looking for that elusive lucky break. You might argue that an airplane hangar full of cash is motivation enough for anyone, but in this context it seems a sketchy motive given the danger Seal knowingly places himself and his family in. Without a sense of the man, the film plays out like a retro roller coaster – the ride is enjoyable enough but we don’t take much away from it.

Then there’s Cruise himself. Though his Southern accent is never less than convincing, the part never really seems to fit him. If the plot fails in giving Seal a believable motive, Cruise lets down the character by not giving him an edge. Even when staring down the barrel of a machine gun, his performance lacks desperation when the walls inevitably close in around Seal during the film’s third act.

At least he’s surrounded by an impressive supporting cast. Gleeson is delightfully smug and slappable as the career-minded Fed with no regard for Seal’s welfare, while Caleb Landry Jones is ace as the redneck brother-in-law whose brief appearance spells trouble from the beginning. Seal’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) is curiously written, however, as she expresses little concern over the obvious predicament her husband’s actions place them in. A madcap cautionary tale that’s fun while it lasts, then, and further proof that star power can carry a film only so far.

Published 22 Aug 2017

Tags: Domhnall Gleeson Tom Cruise

Anticipation.

The director-star combo that spawned Edge of Tomorrow reunite to tell an intriguing true story.

Enjoyment.

Guns! Drugs! Planes! Reagan!

In Retrospect.

A forgettable flight of fantasy.

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