Tom Cruise in American Made (Photo: Universal)
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Doug Liman
STARS Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson
Whew, that was close. Just when it seemed as if we had lost Tom Cruise to the ranks of paycheck-cashing automatons no longer interested in applying themselves on screen (see: Anthony Hopkins, Nicolas Cage), along comes American Made to show there’s still some life left in the maverick actor. After the ego-boosting but audience-snoozing duo of The Mummy and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, there were certainly no guarantees.
A caffeinated Cruise storms his way through this fact-based yarn focusing on Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who’s recruited by the CIA (repped by Domhnall Gleeson as cheerful agent Monty Schafer) to partake in reconnaissance runs over Central American rebel camps. This leads to Barry also working with Panamanian General Manuel Noriega, the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia, and, finally, the dishonorable and hypocritical Reagan White House (there’s newsreel footage of Ronnie predictably ignoring Iran-Contra questions to gurgle over his Thanksgiving turkey). Over the course of his escapades, Barry remains committed to his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright), contends with her reckless brother JB (Caleb Landry Jones), and makes so much money that he has to eventually start burying some of it in the backyard of his home in Mena, Arkansas.
Director Doug Liman (who previously worked with Cruise on the excellent Edge of Tomorrow) and scripter Gary Spinelli clearly have plenty of affection – perhaps too much – for Barry Seal, who’s presented as a likable guy who never really hurt anybody. Considering he routinely flew cocaine into the U.S. makes that a highly dubious outlook, but regardless, Cruise plays him as such an eager-to-please opportunist that we enjoy watching him even if we never really care about his fate. At any rate, he’s definitely preferable to monsters like Pablo Escobar and Oliver North, and the picture does a nice job of illustrating that he’s really just a pawn in the games played by amoralists with only their own self-interests at heart. Ultimately, American Made examines where capitalism and corruption intersect, and, in that respect, the movie is aptly named.