Genre: Action and Adventure, Thriller
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, E. Roger Mitchell, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda, Benito Martinez, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays
Release Date: September 29th, 2017
In the past several years, films like Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and War Dogs (2016) have shown how greed can take hold of a person and never let go. The former focused on a wall street broker while the latter focused on two young men who became international weapons dealer. Both of those films were based on true stories and both focused on destructive pursuits of the American dream.
The new feature American Made similarly fits into the genre but rather than finding its own unique identity, this drama feels like a muddled version of a familiar story.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, the youngest pilot in TWA history. Working for TWA isn’t enough for him though and when he’s approached by a CIA officer named Monty (Domhnall Gleeson) in the late 1970s, Seal sees an escape. He begins flying over Communist nations in South America with a camera attached to his plane capturing images of soldiers and bases that the CIA can use in its operations.
While working for the CIA, Seal begins smuggling drugs for a cartel in South America. He moves the drugs to the United States while working for the government of the United States. As the story continues, Seal takes advantage of these dual positions. He eventually starts making loads and loads of money shipping weapons to South America while moving even more drugs into the US.
“We had cash coming in from every direction,” he says at one point, “who knew that was gonna be a problem?”
Director Doug Liman clearly has a flair for exploring Seal’s extravagant world, a world that includes Seal’s owning an airplane, an airfield and a beautiful home. There are numerous scenes seemingly celebrating Seal’s duplicitous lifestyle and showing how he constantly seemed at the top of the world.
For his part, Cruise seemingly takes delight in playing this outrageously charismatic character who always seems to be ahead of everyone around him.
The tricky thing here is that there’s little depth to the proceedings. The plot just rushes around like sequences in a music video with little time for character-building or time to understand how Seal maintains this unhealthy lifestyle. Even as she realizes the depth of Seal’s depravity, Barry’s own wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) stands by him with little hesitance.
The consequences of Seal’s actions are glossed over here to create more of a fun adventurous story, which minimizes Seal’s real-world actions. From those affected by the drugs Seal moved to those whose lives were destroyed when his world came crashing down, writer Gary Spinelli instead focuses his attention on Seal’s antics, which– with few consequences– grow tiresome.
There are notably some promising concepts laid out here but this story deserved more than the superficial ride the filmmakers offer. Cruise provides a strong lead performance (it’s understandable why he was chosen for the role) but the actor doesn’t get to explore Seal’s true motivations. In the film, Seal simply wanted more and more money and didn’t pay attention to the consequences of his own decisions. The filmmakers should’ve done that. If they had, we could’ve seen a more in-depth look at Seal’s life.
Review by: John Hanlon