After Tom Cruise’s recent performances in the Jack Reacher series and box office flop “The Mummy,” it seemed as if Cruise’s leading man persona was being boxed-in by established franchises.
“American Made” is the film that Cruise desperately needed to show off his acting chops as he takes on the real-life story of pilot Barry Seal, a CIA-operative-turned-government-informant-turned-drug-smuggling pilot.
Seal, a Trans World Airlines pilot in the ’70s, gets bored with the life of a commercial airline pilot — the constant shuttles, the overnight stays at the Holiday Inns and incessant greeting of passengers.
While on a layover, CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) confronts Seal about his ongoing smuggling of Cuban cigars. Instead of arresting Seal, Schafer is impressed by his aviation skills and recruits him to take reconnaissance photos of Sandinista bases in Central and South America. Tired of mundane flight checks on 707s, Seal accepts the offer.
One of Seal’s missions goes terribly wrong when he gets kidnapped by the burgeoning Medellin cartel of Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa brothers. Instead of killing him, the cartel offers him a deal he can’t refuse: $2,000 per kilo of cocaine smuggled to the U.S. on his CIA issued plane.
From there, Seal gets entangled into a web of illicit activities while working for the drug smugglers, the CIA, the DEA and the White House. In doing so, Seal builds a cash empire so large that he doesn’t even know what to do with all the money.
“Edge of Tomorrow” director, Doug Liman, and writer Gary Spinelli portray Seal as a dubious hero that got caught up in the whirlwind of corruptness and greed.
He doesn’t do drugs, doesn’t kill anyone, remains faithful to his wife and uses his newfound fortune to provide a great lifestyle for his family. As Seal says, he’s simply “the gringo that always delivers.”
However, it’s hard to question whether or not to root for Seal, a man who rationalizes smuggling drugs, trafficking guns and laundering money. The film’s fast pace and dazzling flying sequences leave little time for the audience to question if Seal was a pawn or if he knew exactly what he was getting himself into.
The film’s secondary characters are devoid of any depth and seem to be included just for some extra laughs. Even Seal’s wife (Sarah Wright Olsen) gets little screen time and is a carbon copy of Margot Robbie’s Naomi in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” albeit with a southern drawl.
Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see Cruise in a film not based on or kicking off a film franchise (it’s been quite a while, actually). It’s almost as hard to believe that Cruise did all his own stunts as it is to believe that the film was based off a true story.
If you’ve missed the days where Cruise isn’t saving the world or defeating aliens, mummies, etc., “American Made” is the film for you.