AMERICAN MADE review by Mark Walters – Tom Cruise runs drugs & guns for the “good” guys

AMERICAN MADE review by Mark Walters – Tom Cruise runs drugs & guns for the “good” guys

Tom Cruise and Doug Liman previously gave us EDGE OF TOMORROW, which was a hit with critics and moviegoers, though sadly didn’t have the biggest return in box office sales… it made back just over half its budget, but became a strong word of mouth hit on home video, so much so that a sequel is supposedly on the way. Now these two have re-teamed for a wildly different type of film, a period piece true story about a rather incredible series of events.

Barry Seal (Cruise) is a TWA pilot in 1978, flying planes and making a mostly honest living with a family at home. His one bit of shady behavior is sneaking cigars into the country, which catches the attention of CIA Agent Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Schafer approaches Seal and asks him to help his country by flying a sleek jet into South American territories where he can take spy photos of criminal activity. Barry must keep his actions secret, even from his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright), but things get more and more complicated when he’s cornered by a trio of South American drug lords, including Pablo Escobar, and told he needs to run their drugs into the United States. These men pay Barry quite well, and at one point Seal even expands his operation adding four extra pilots and planes. The money flows in fast and furious, but Barry has little time to spend it. And every time you think he’s going to get busted, Seal slips free and takes on even more nefarious activity, eventually running guns down to the Contras. With powerful drug runners behind him on one side, and the U.S. government behind him on the other, will Barry ever end up going down?

The real life story of Barry Seal is pretty amazing, and while the film does cover a lot of what really happened, it also greatly romanticizes the proceedings and the persona of Seal in particular. With his charm overpowering the audience, Tom Cruise finds a reading as Barry Seal that might just be one of the most likable cinematic characters this year. In reality he looks nothing like the real man, and it’s safe to assume the real Barry Seal probably was nowhere near as smooth as the way Cruise plays his Southern persona. Still, even with movies based on real events, people go to see them because they want to be entertained, and this is one of the most entertaining movies to hit cinemas in a while. It also feels like classic Cruise, in that the character of Barry here is a likable fella, but one who is highly flawed and substantially awkward. This is the kind of role the actor excels in, very much in the vein of Jerry Maguire. In fact it might just be one of the best performances of his career. Domhnall Gleeson is also great as Agent Schafer, a man who may or may not be doing things for the right reasons, but is also just trying to get ahead in a competitive workplace. We get to not only see him behave in a morally ambiguous fashion with Seal when giving directives, but the film also pulls back the curtain a bit to show his less-than-glamorous office life working from a cubicle. Sarah Wright is fun as Barry’s wife Lucy, holding her own with Cruise and playing her part well, even if she’s half his age in real life. There’s some great supporting cast members on display here too, like Jesse Plemons as a small town lawman, and Caleb Landry Jones as Lucy’s dimwitted brother who you just know is going to screw things up for Barry the second he appears.

Doug Liman does some fantastic things behind the camera, particularly with the aerial photography shots. Some of what we’re seeing is digitally enhanced for sure, but there’s really impressive point of view shots that look incredibly real, giving the illusion that Cruise (as Barry) is not only doing all the crazy flying, but also helps put us right in the moment to where we feel like we’re actually there with him. Tom Cruise is credited as a stunt pilot at the end of the film, so it’s very likly several of the shots we see in the movie are actually him flying the plane. The real life story of Barry Seal does not end well, and I was curious if the film would explore some of the darker aspects of how things wrapped up. It’s safe to say the production doesn’t shy away from the obvious, but still manages to keep the entire exercise engaging and entertaining until the end. As someone who remembers the early 80s news reports well, it’s interesting to see real footage of Ronald Reagan and other 80s political figures, and realize how they fit into this story. I’m honestly not sure what’s missing from AMERICAN MADE, as it does feel like it’s lacking… something, but overall it’s a very pleasing moviegoing experience, and without a doubt one of Cruise’s best films in years. Maybe he and Liman should try to do even more movies together, that is once they get done with that EDGE OF TOMORROW follow-up.

AMERICAN MADE opens September 29, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community’s leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.