American Made

Aida Vucic | 26 August 2017

Hollywood loves exploiting real-life stories, turning their lives into theatrical tales. Tinsel town spins them into perfect little packages to incense consumer pleasure, and we lap it up because the thrill is real and the stakes are high. American Made is no exception. An adrenaline-filled joy flight through the life of Barry Seal, an ex-pilot turned CIA arms dealer and Columbian drug smuggler.  

Tom Cruise is no stranger to playing a jet setting pilot, have played our beloved Maverick in Top Gun. while they may both share the same love for wire-rimmed aviator shades, Cruise’s Barry Seal is far from a hero. The year is 1978, Seal is a successfully TWA pilot, bored by his current domestic route, smuggling cigars to quench his thirst for danger. For CIA man Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) he’s the perfectly corruptible pilot to fly planes across the jungle landscape of Central America taking surveillance photos for the CIA. Until an opportunity lands in his lap, involving the infamous ‘Pablo Escobar crew’ and then these flyovers included a little extra baggage and a little added danger. Seal seemingly winks and smiles his way through the entirety of these events, ultimately finding himself working for the Whitehouse.


As far as providing a strong storyline, American Made is slightly messy and jarring. Brief snippets of home-cam footage is used as an alternative to voiceovers to provide some semblance of a backbone to the film. The film never goes too deep, simply skimming the surface, to the detriment of the supporting cast who seem to have been thrown in haphazardly. The script by Gary Spinelli has been drawn up in the same fashion as War Dogs and American Hustle, with the same wanton abandon and absurdist view of these real life events. The dialogue is quick, spoken between pleats of sweat dripping down brows and the heavy briefcases of these illegal transactions.   


The film is a display of Cruise’s acting calibre, providing Cruise ample opportunity to flaunt his cheeky smile and cocky strut and even the occasional butt cheek. Cruise captures the laconic everyman nature of Seal, but also his unique sensibility and utter cool. His performance provides some remedy to his earlier performance this year in The Mummy, which squashed any opportunity for him to showcase some inkling of his persona. His only fault is his attempt at a Louisiana accent, which in his defence seems to be only well-executed by Seal’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) who owns her character’s trailer trash past.


While it doesn’t throw off the trappings of an over-explored genre, American Made does bring something new to the table it it’s utterly indefatigable good humour. Even Barry’s eventual demise feels light-hearted, giving you a sense that the film mirrors the man’s own personality – eternally optimistic and full of self-belief. It’s refreshing to find Cruise in something this entertaining, given the dour tone of recent movies.


The film also gives us some incredible imagery, with sweeping vistas being a staple of Seal’s flights through danger and the law. It’s a visual feast, anchored by something that is missing too often from films these days; fun.


Not perfect, but certainly a fun and upbeat vehicle for Cruise to show us he can still act.