Simultaneously stepping away from the action brands they’re both primarily recognised for, there’s a sense of material re-engagement for director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Edge of Tomorrow) and star Tom Cruise with American Made. Telling a story that’s less reliant on aesthetic spectacle and star power, Gary Spinelli’s account of pilot-turned-drug smuggler Barry Seal’s recruitment by the CIA in the 1980’s is one of those tales so unbelievable it could only be true.
Detailing a specific period in Barry’s (Cruise) life, the film wastes little time showcasing his graduation from the monotonous routine of being a pilot for Trans World Airlines to his recruitment by the CIA in a bid to counter the emerging communist threat in Central America. If that wasn’t enough of a lifestyle upheaval, his role in this covert operation led to his direct involvement with the Medellin Cartel – an organised network of drug suppliers and smugglers founded by such notorious figures as Pablo Escobar and Jorge Luis Vasquez – which in turn infamously humiliated the White House, under the presidency of Ronal Reagan, when the Iran-Contra scandal became public. Crazy, no?
Though it would’ve been easy for Barry to be depicted as something of an unlikeable character given how consumed by greed he ultimately became, and the film certainly never justifies his behaviour, through Spinelli’s script and Cruise’s embodiment we completely understand the choices Barry makes, even when you know he knows he should walk away. Despite his public perception, and the slip that was the recent Mummy debacle, Cruise is nearly always uniformly reliable, and American Made proves the film both he and the viewing public need; despite him performing all his own flying stunts, the film is void of action set-pieces and instead stands as a reminder that he is an actor first and foremost, and still a damn good one at that.
As tends to be the case with the majority of Liman’s back-catalogue, the male-heavy story is well-balanced by a strong female presence (see Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity or Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow) and Sarah Wright as Barry’s devoted wife Lucy proves the film is just as much her story as it is his, with their love story constantly grounding the lunacy that surrounds them; the relatively unknown actress effortlessly holding her own against Cruise with her pluck and determination.
Given how grand a lifestyle Seal managed to afford himself off the back of both his illegal dealings and operative recruitment, it seems almost unordinary that he isn’t a more well-known figure as the events on hand in American Made are nothing short of spectacular. An oft-comedic crime drama that never feels too afraid to blur the lines between what constitutes heroism and villainy, Liman’s sharply paced outing is at once a welcome return to form for Cruise, and a fresh change of pace for a filmmaker who was feeling all too comfortable helming the action genre.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
American Made hits cinemas on Thursday, August 24th