At this point, director Doug Liman should direct all of Tom Cruise’s movies. The helmer did wonderworks with the superstar on Edge of Tomorrow and now the two have joined forces yet again to dazzle us with the insanely entertaining true story, American Made.
Liman is now two-for-two in 2017, with his previous effort The Wall landing on our top 10 of 2017 (so far) list recently and now he shows another side of Cruise in American Made that is one heck of a thrill ride that pushes the throttle on film fun in the best of ways.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, who in the late 70s was working as a pilot for TWA. He was successful and to paraphrase the Talking Heads, he had a beautiful house and a beautiful wife and beautiful kids. But, something was missing. Liman and his screenwriter, Gary Spinelli, illustrate that with one moment that takes all of 30 seconds to execute and informs the audience all they need to know about Barry Seal. This guy is craving more from what provides his living. Let’s just say it will make you wonder how real turbulence is on your next flight!
Seal is moving Cuban cigars using his flight career as a cover and as he appears to be getting caught by Domhnall Gleeson’s Monty Schafer, something else entirely occurs and it will define the remainder of the pilot’s days. Schafer works for the CIA and the agency wants to employ the aspiring daredevil to fly for them by bringing arms to rebels fighting communists in Central America. Ever the entrepreneur, Seal takes the endeavor a step further and becomes the primary source of delivering drugs to the U.S. for a burgeoning cartel (that includes a then-budding leader named Pablo Escobar).
Our “hero” becomes so good at his job that before he knows it, he’s pulled into what would become the Iran-Contra deal to import drugs to the U.S. to pay for weapons from Iran to get into the hands of Central American rebels. Just when Seal seems to be over his head, his almost guardian angel, Schafer, swoops in and rescues him and his career takes an upturn, instead of a downturn towards prison. It’s insane. And it’s also unbelievable that it took this long for Seal’s tale to come to the silver screen.
But the film gods sometimes work in funny ways and one of the things they do best, usually, is having fate align and the right people come along to play the right parts and bring a larger-than-life tale alive. That is clearly the case with American Made as it is impossible to think of anyone else other than Cruise portraying our lead and it is heresy to imagine anyone but Liman capturing the lively lunacy that is this period of time with this certain gentleman’s extraordinary life story.
Cruise has his best work in years, well, since Edge of Tomorrow. But, dare we say, this is a performance that even supersedes that. He’s so much more than playing that Cruise cinematic character that we all adore. This is a three-dimensional individual who pops off the screen with enigmatic charisma, swagger and yes… a million dollar smile. There is an innate Southern charm to Seal that one can see why everyone wanted him to succeed, from his CIA contact to the drug dealers who could not be more demanding and secretive about who they hire and more importantly, who they keep hired (and alive). Cruise illustrates that throughout American Made and does the legacy of Seal proud. We pull for this guy, all the way.
Joining him in the stellar performance department is Gleeson. He nails the agency man who firmly believes that the ends necessitate the means and it shows in how he conducts his work. Sarah Wright dazzles as Seal’s wife Lucy. She is no wallflower. Lucy knows what her husband does and supports him in that effort by manning the home fires. Seal could not have done what he did all those years without the unwavering support on the homefront by someone who also was not shy about calling him out when he needed it.
Liman again rivets with his gift. He has become a master of filmmaking in a relatively short period of time. It is now to the point where his name alone will get this writer into the theater to see his movies. Doug Liman’s directing? We’re there. And when it comes to American Made, you should be there too.