American Made (2017)

Mr Show Pony himself, Tom Cruise, is here recycling his usual mannerisms – the grin, the hand gestures – even revisiting his own cinematic past as a pilot. Yet this time around his showboating is not meant to be wholly admired. Originally, Cruise was liked by the public, then fell out of the public’s good graces for some reasons…sofa jumping on Oprah, shilling for a cult, suing gay porn star after gay porn star until they were pauperized…but now, due to his skill as an actor, he is conditionally liked again. Director Doug Liman, having directed The Bourne Identity and Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, knows a thing or two about fast pace, intrigue, and the limits of idealism. And American Made really is American made! Amazing.

Music from the 70’s (George Harrison’s “Wah Wah” for the finale pleased me no end) and 80’s such as Hooked on Classics and A Fifth of Beethoven keep American Made rooted in the past as we try to forget Cruise is a man of our times. Intercutting with notables like President and Mrs. Reagan brings home how near Seal was to the heart of things politic. As he explains in a voice over associated with tapes he made recounting his adventures, “I’m the gringo that always delivers.” The same could be said of Cruise, whose youthful swashbuckling has taken him from Top Gun fame to present day success. But there is one problem. The real Barry Seal did not look like Tom Cruise. Barry Seal looked like a very obese darts player. But why quibble about such trivia? As my gym teacher used to bellow at me: “Shut up and do it!”

So I’m doing it. Lets bring y’all up to speed: Its 1978 and Barry Seal (Cruise, of course) is a bored TWA pilot with a sideline in contraband concealment. The CIA make him an offer he can’t refuse–take reconnaissance photos of Soviet backed insurgents in Central America. Before you can say Pablo Escobar he is having the time of his life risking death by drug smuggling for all manner of undesirables. All the film making here is in service of Seal’s spirit. It goes out of its way to be scraggy, places and dates scrawled on the screen, handheld cameras scurrying around to catch the action. Gleeful recklessness sells reality, as do the performances, particularly those of the future Medellín cartel guys who Seal attracts the attention of soon after he starts working for the CIA. They are threatening in their subtlety.

The first time we see Escobar (yes, he’s in it too) he’s scoffing an orange, utterly menacing in his nonchalance. The film reeks of realness, and compared to Cruise’s recent run, a seemingly endless glut of outsized action, it’s all relatively down to earth. And in keeping with Seal’s story, American Made never really slows down. Maybe that’s as it should be, in honour of its anti-hero, a man on a constant joyride. But being a big ball of fun hobbles the film somewhat. It doesn’t go deep, and rarely resonates. Sarah Wright is great as Seal’s wife, but despite sizeable screen time the family scenes come across as a subplot. You long for more peaks and troughs, and some personal devastation. The underlying themes, though, hit home. Seal’s family aside, everybody sees everybody else as currency. Everyone’s in it for themselves. Money trump’s morals, which suits us in 2017. This is a movie-as-trailer. Forget the details.

American Made is a smart, funny parody of 1980s materialism and yuppie lifestyles. See it.

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