Director: Doug Liman
Written by: Gary Spinelli
Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnail Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen, Alejandro Edda, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 9/25/17
Opens: September 29, 2017
In one scene Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is relaxing with a copy of Al Capone’s biography, which he presumably is using as a model for his own actions. It’s the late seventies, so Seal could not be privy to the seasons of “Boardwalk Empire,” but that series of dramas deals with the failed experiment of prohibition in America, and while its star, Steve Buscemi, is no Tom Cruise, many of the TV episodes can run circles around “American Made,” quality-wise. Of course in those seasons, the characters, including Al Capone, have much more time to define themselves, but in Doug Liman’s new picture, they are given two hours to bring a story to life. Expect lots to be crammed into “American Made,” so much coming at you from the screen that you have little time to catch your breath or analyze the ways that the “based on a true story” is loaded with hype.
Barry Seal has a regular job, a beautiful wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), a well-appointed house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But he’s become bored with his job on a TWA domestic route where for kicks he fakes air turbulence to scare his passengers. He’s willing to take a chance, giving up his salary and benefits for an opportunity to feel more alive. He gets that chance when Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) approaches him to do something for his country, namely to fly missions for the CIA when traveling over countries south of the border. He is so good at the job that he is promoted: now he is assigned to meet with General Noriega in Panama serving as courier, but on the way the Medellín Cartel in Colombia offers him a job with more money than he could have imagined, flying drugs from Colombia to various drops, making deliveries by dumping huge bags of cocaine to middlemen along the way. Best of all he transports a staggering array of guns to the Contras in Nicaragua, who are fighting the rebel Sandinistas for control of the Nicaraguan government.
Much of the action takes place in the air, as he barely misses losing his life on a runway that’s too short even for his plane, which pushes aside trees and barely misses the mountains that are so prominent all over western South America. He loves the money as well, though his way of laundering appears too simple in that he deposits all his gain in a small bank in Mena, Arkansas, where he and his family are forced to relocate.
Feeling alive, getting a rush, and swimming in money: what more can a guy want? Too bad the U.S. is supporting the wrong side in Nicaragua, despite what you hear from clips of Ronald Reagan and Nancy. But why worry about politics when you’re just a delivery-boy?
The film is reasonably entertaining, not as much as director Doug Liman’s “The Bourne Identity” and “Jumper,” but there is ample comedy provided by Seal’s discussions with the fun people he deals with in South America (in one scene they say “Shoot the gringo,” but that’s all in jest). The hand-held cameras keep the pace dizzying and the editing is top-notch. Call this another star vehicle for Tom Cruise who looks years younger than his 55 years.
Rated R. 114 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – C+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – A