During the time of its release, American Made’s front man had turned his ankles to kindling after pushing himself to the limits following another Mission: Impossible stunt. Now is not the time to say, ‘we told you so’ of course, but occasionally Tom Cruise can avoid throwing himself into a job and just…well, act, instead. Such is the case for the shockingly true story and pretty entertaining adventure of Barry Seale in Doug Liman’s American Made.
The very antithesis of the impossible-achieving super agent, Seale is a man who went to great lengths to avoid any potential danger and wound up getting it from all sides as a result. An airline pilot with a cushy drug smuggling op on the side, Barry kisses his dull (but still fairly impressive) day job goodbye to work for the CIA in surveillance in the 1970s doing back and forth trips over Cuba to see what they were up to.
It’s here where he soon finds himself caught on the radar of a certain Pablo Escobar, a notorious figure in the drugs trade and a reason to binge-watch Netflix’s Narcos. From swapping photos to smuggling drugs, Barry begins working major powers against one another to make a truckload of cash, all the while keeping his eye on the sky and ensuring it doesn’t all come crashing down around him. It does, on a number of occasions but the thrill is seeing just how he got out of it that makes it so rewarding.
More often than not, Cruise has been the man to punch, kick, or sprint his way out of a situation. However, from the rather chatty pages of scribe, Gary Spinelli, he’s required to spend most of his time talking his way out of situations and showing off those stupidly pearly whites whilst doing so, which is where American Made really takes flight. Googling Barry Seale confirms the ridiculous list of scrapes he managed to get himself out of, but it’s a real joy to see Cruise in the cockpit for the role. Funny, sharp, smart, and at times, worryingly naïve when it comes to encounters with shady CIA man, Domhall Glesson, it’s probably one of his best roles in recent years.
Understandably, handling procedures are effortless between himself and helmer Doug Liman, who has now become somewhat of a double act following their work from Edge of Tomorrow – another great hit that saw Cruise as the not-so-heroic hero and one that he’ll soon be going back to. Both of them take the film under their wings (pardon the pun) and do a great job in delivering one crazy chapter of Seale’s life to the next. If there was one fault with American Made, it’s that the life of this high-level hustler’s life isn’t hard enough.
This feels like The Wolf of Wall Street with wings, at times. Seale looks straight into the camera and tells you just how many jobs he’s on, who he’s conning and the benefits he’s reaping from it. It’s here where American Made plays things a bit to safe, for a story that is anything but. There’s no edge to Seale, no element of scumbaggery that makes you secretly want him to fail, because after all, it’s still Tom Cruise. In his hands our anti-hero has a charm and charisma to him that Seale never did (Pablo called him ‘the fatman’ for a reason), leading to American Made lack an edge it could really do with having.
Nevertheless, the shiny gloss that’s cast over this insane story is not too distracting, thanks to a great lead performance that shows that Tom Cruise doesn’t need action to keep your attention, just a great performance we know he’s more than capable. It’s great to see him land so smoothly with this one.