By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
True crime stories have become a dime a dozen in Hollywood. As long as real people keep making bad decisions and exercising poor judgment for cash prizes, there will always be plenty of material for filmmakers to utilize. It is up to filmmakers, though, to not only select more unique stories, but also to present in them in new and innovative ways. The latest movie is a cinematic telling of Barry Seal’s crazy story. In this case film producers chose wisely a story that involves drug trafficking, government conspiracy and a nearly unwitting man caught in the middle of it all. Starring Tom Cruise and directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, Edge of Tomorrow), American Made offers a truly fascinating story, but one presented in the usual, typical fashion.
Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) lives a mostly unassuming life as a commercial airline pilot in the 1970s. In order to supplement his income to provide for his wife and children in Louisiana, he begins smuggling cigars and mostly harmless contraband in his carry-on bag. It is at this point that CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) approaches Barry for some special covert missions. Faced with either doing time for his lite smuggling or taking a government job, Barry agrees to take the missions. As Barry continues his covert work for the government, the Medellin drug cartel intervenes and forces him to smuggle their drugs. Barry manages to get himself deeper while trying to juggle working for the CIA and smuggling cocaine to the US. Things get even more complicated in his life while in doing so, Barry makes an obscene amount of money in the process.
Written by Gary Spinelli, Doug Liman’s American Made has much in common with movies such as War Dogs and just about any crime story that mixes an element of comedy with the shocks and awes associated with crime movies. Though the presentation is nothing new, the story elements are rather absorbing and Spinelli and Liman make the comedic aspect work very well. It is a familiar journey, but one that still manages to captivate and entertain despite its familiarity. Spinelli’s sharply written comedy and use of astute satire and irony makes the movie even more entertaining.
And though Tom Cruise is better known now for portraying badass, superheroic protagonists, it is very refreshing to see him in a role that makes Barry Seal seem more like a somewhat unwitting victim of circumstance. Sure, Barry Seal did get in over his head at some point and did make some very bad decisions, but there are times in the movie where he didn’t have too many options. Cruise does a great job portraying Seal as sweet-talking schemer, but one who is usually uneasy with his shaky schemes. Actress Sarah Wright delivers a solid performance as Seal’s appropriately flustered and frustrated wife Lucy. Domhnall Gleeson offers a humorously snarky turn as Monty Schafer, the ambitious CIA agent who recruits Barry Seal to do the dirty work. The movie also features entertaining turns by Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones, Alejandro Edda, and Jed Rees.
Even though, this type of story is quite familiar and is told in the typical fashion, it does have enough going for it to make it worth watching. The comedic factor alone had me well entertained, but the craziness of this story also makes it compelling. It was also a joy to see Tom Cruise as a regular Joe with persuasive skills struggling to stay afloat in a sea of bad judgment, government conspiracy and organized crime. As much as I like his superheroics in Mission Impossible and other action movies, this type of role feels more genuine. It is definitely more reminiscent of his early work such as Joel Goodson from Risky Business. As Cruise gets older, I hope to see him tackle more roles which challenge him less physically and more intellectually as an actor.