Tom Cruise and Doug Liman are back with another winner. American Made is a breezy, highly entertaining, quasi-true story of arms and drug trafficking in the early eighties. The film is contextually different from their previous effort, sci-fi hit Edge of Tomorrow; but it shares the winsome traits that make Liman's work so enjoyable. American Made's slick cinematography and editing hearken back to Liman's Swingers and Go days. The film does lack depth given the severity of the subject matter. There could also have been more meat for the supporting characters. Cruise is center stage throughout, a cocaine cowboy that certainly got in too deep.
American Made is the wild story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). A TWA pilot in the late seventies, Seal pops up on the CIA's radar with his minor smuggling activities. Bored with commercial aviation and an inherent thrill seeker, Seal is convinced to run clandestine reconnaissance flights through communist Central America. His activities attract the attention of the newly formed Medellin Cartel in Colombia. Everyone partners up in a highly lucrative, but illegal trafficking scheme. Seal rakes in millions, until the Iran-Contra Scandal rocks the country.
The first thing that strikes you about American Made is the humor. The film makes light of dangerous situations and ruthless people. Case in point, notorious drug kingpins Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) are not normally associated with big laughs. In American Made, they are enamored by Seal's piloting skills and ballsy personality. His treks through commie and drug infested jungles are told from a comical perspective. Liman portrays Seal as the "gringo" with no boundaries. Therein the humor lies. Seal was off his rocker to attempt any of this craziness. But the lure of easy money and aerial hijinks was too much to pass up.
Tom Cruise is pretty much in every frame of this film. There are quite a few supporting characters, but they get scant screen time. I wish Liman had done more with Seal's flying partners, the Medellin Cartel bosses, and JB (Caleb Landry Jones), his redneck brother in law. These characters add the spicy flavor to American Made. They are memorable and vitally important to the plot, but a blip in comparison to Cruise. I understand he's the big star, and does a decent enough job in the lead, but an opportunity was missed by not spreading the wealth.
The geopolitical events that drive American Made are glossed over. Liman doesn't get into what happened in Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia. The plot is squarely about Seal's involvement. We see and experience everything through his eyes. While I would have liked a deeper explanation of the circumstances, it makes sense, given this character's attributes to avoid them. Seal is no freedom fighter or patriot. He's a villain in his own story, utterly complicit from the go. Liman avoids any morality judgments. That's an interesting take given his family's history. Arthur Liman, Doug's father, was the chief counsel for the U.S. Senate during the Iran-Contra Affair.
From Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment, American Made is a solidly fun crime flick. It's been described as Goodfellas in the sky. I wouldn't give it that lofty praise, especially since Cruise is the only "fella". But it's swift entertainment with a lot more laughs than expected. I look forward to the next Tom Cruise and Doug Liman outing. They definitely have a good rapport.