Tom Cruise is back in his prime in the new biographical black comedy chronically a man who played a major role in the rise of the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s and served as an informant for the U.S. Government and the DEA. Funny, action packed, and focusing on an intriguing and worthy story, “American Made” is a well shot, well acted, and fun cinematic experience that may not be perfect, but it’s pretty damn close to as good as a film of this kind can be. Let’s get to the review and talk about how fun it really is.
“American Made” tells the story of Barry Seal, who left his job as a TWA pilot to work as an information for the U.S. Government while also acting as a drug smuggler for the famed Medellin Cartel. Seal, played by Tom Cruise, finds himself in numerous comical and dangerous scenarios as he juggles his multiple jobs and risky business practices eventually finding himself stuck between both sides of the law before becoming a victim as both the dealers and the DEA turn on him, putting his life and livelihood in extreme danger.
“American Made” makes great use of its real-life story by creating an interesting setup where Barry is actually making tapes explaining the events of his duel lives in the late 70s and early 80s. Combine that with chaotic storytelling to show the actual events and an interesting approach to the narrative and you have a fast-paced and fun film that hits all the right notes. Tom Cruise is in top form as he leads the cast as Barry Seal, a man who, for all intents and purposes, is kind of a loser, but he’s a loser who lucks his way into an amazing deal where he has his hands in U.S. drug enforcement and the drug trade itself. Cruise does a miraculous job presenting Barry as a man who is more than he seems. At times Seal shows his ego and seems to shoot first and ask questions later, but other times there seems to be more going on behind the scenes, a method to the madness if you will. Barry is a character we can truly relate to because he’s all over the place. He’s imperfect, he’s somewhat self-serving, and he’s an opportunist who doesn’t truly understand what he’s getting himself into until he’s already into it. But he’s also charming, likable, and sympathetic in his own way. In my opinion it’s one of Cruise’s most complex characters and overall best performances in years and he totally owns it.
Joining Cruise is Sarah Wright, who plays Barry’s devoted and strong willed wife Lucy, who turns in a breakout performance presenting a woman who cares deeply for her husband, despite the impact his actions have on her reality, but has no issue standing on her own. She’s a great character and a well written and presented strong female lead, the type of role often relegated to a less significant side character in these true-to-life stories. Despite Cruise stealing the show, Wright holds her own bringing Lucy to life and proving to be a fitting other half to a man whose chaotic life needs a grounding point at home to be both believable and relatable.
The other standout performance is Domhnall Gleeson who plays the DEA agent Monty Schafer, the man who recruits and handles Barry Seal as he works for the DEA. Gleeson’s character is sort of dry comic relief. He’s a serious man with a sense of humor and works a both a best friend and strict authority for Barry, unafraid to watch him sink but appreciative of the sacrifices and risks Barry endures to do the job. Gleeson is very much overshadowed by his costars, but that’s more a fault of his character’s place in the story than anything. As Barry’s handler, Gleeson’s Schafer also serves, in a way, is also a well-characterized presentation of the hypocrisy of the United States government. He chooses to overlook and allow Barry to partake in the drug trade as long as he gets what he wants from Barry and that allows him to stand out in his government job. Schafer is complex. Maybe not as complex and well crafted as Seal, but complex all the same and it’s actually a breath of fresh air to see a secondary character that holds up with the more prominent leads to create a complete cast to hold the film together.
In terms of presentation “American Made” is all over the place and that’s actually a good thing here. Seal’s life is chaotic and fast paced, and there’s a lot of story to fit in one film. To get around this the film plays out in clips and summaries of different parts of Barry’s crazy existence, as told by himself, and it does so without losing its way which is a very hard thing to do when you approach an expansive timeline in this manner. To compare to another biographical film from 2017, “All Eyes On Me” tried to accomplish the same thing but failed epically, presenting dry and unmemorable representations of Tupac’s life. Here Seal’s life is supported by great comedic timing and storytelling that is engaging and memorable. It might seem like a cop out to try and fit to much in a movie with so little attention given to each of the events separately, but “American Made” pulls it off nicely giving special attention to the most important events Barry was involved in without making us feel like we’ve missed anything getting to that point. Years are told in minutes, and yet we understand everything that happened over that time without missing a beat. That’s thanks to great writing, great filmmaking, and great direction by Doug Liman who cut his teeth on faced paced action films like “the Bourne Identity”.
“American Made” also serves as a spectacularly subtle satire of America, using real events and a real-life figure to present the hypocrisies our country has overlooked over the years. From a drug informant getting involved in the drug trade to America flying in rebels from another country only to see them run away or refuse to rebel there are many subtle and not-so-subtle topics this movie touches on that are all summarized by Barry Seal’s love for America as a country of craziness and opportunity.
Seal as a character exposes the hypocrisy of his great home nation, a hypocrisy that lies in the heart of almost any national power in the world, but instead of criticizing America he honestly believes this hypocrisy plays into what’s great about the country either because it opens up holes for him to take advantage of or for another, more sarcastic reason we may not truly understand. It may go over many people’s heads, but “American Made” may be one of the most honest takes on America in years. It’s not afraid to point out the two-sided approach America has to many issues, specifically taking aim at the Regan administration, but it’s not heavy handed and it doesn’t necessarily demonize either side or Seal himself in the process. It’s just a funny, eye opening film and it does it all with a strange sense of awareness that makes you wonder if it’s truly trying to make a point or if it’s goal is to obtain laughs at its own expense.
“American Made” isn’t necessarily perfect, but it’s a great example of how a worthy story can be well presented in the right hands. Cruise and his co-stars provide committed performances bringing to life a fun and hilarious series of events that can be enjoyed as a satire of America in general, or simply a biographical black comedy about a dope of a man who lucked into one of the most amazing two-sided lifestyles anyone could ever dream of. Regardless of which way you look at “American Made” there’s something for everyone to enjoy and, most of all, it’s a great return to form for Cruise who really needed to provide the world with a reminder that he can still take on a great character and do it justice. I truly enjoyed “American Made” as a film that takes itself just seriously enough to be significant but provides enough comedy and satire to be enjoyable at the same time.