There are many true stories that leave many in disbelief at how fate works. One of those incredible stories is that of Barry Seal, an American pilot who in the 70s and 80s worked with some of the most important historical figures of the time.
American Made is the biographical movie of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), an incredibly talented pilot who feels restrained in his commercial airline job. He lives a satisfying life with his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) in Baton Rouge, Lousiana. One day, Seal is approached by a CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) who offers him a more exciting job taking pictures of communist rebels by flying over their bases in Central America. After proving himself an adept pilot to the CIA, he’s promoted to transfer messages to important assets in Central America (among them Manuel Noriega), and eventually running guns to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. But it doesn’t stop there, Seal catches the eye of the Medellin Cartel, and, among them Pablo Escobar, they also pay Seal a hefty amount to transport cocaine back to the US.
If the story weren’t true, it would be thrown out of the window for it’s incredible incredulity. Seal lived a Forrest Gump-like life, meeting with the most known figures of the political and criminal world at the time. Director Doug Liman decides to take a light tone with the film, choosing humor to be the main driver rather than a dark or dramatic plot, and the audience is all the more glad for it; it makes the film seem more of a personal tale rather than a historical record.
Liman also could have run into the problem of overstuffing his film with so much real-life content that the audience would get dizzy, but he somehow manages to find just the right balance between exposition and pace. Never once did I look at my watch, the story kept me rapt with attention like a tense mystery.
And of course American Made couldn’t have survived without its star: Tom Cruise. Cruise has recently taken up bland roles in the last couple of years. I feared that he might have been fading and cashing with big films, trying to rack up as much cash as he could, but American Made proves otherwise. Liman brings out one of Cruise’s greatest performances in a decade, prompting me even to speculate about possible Oscar rumors.
However, there was one drawback that kept this film from being sensational, and that has to do with Seal’s wife Lucy. Yes, there is a certain objectification with actress Sarah Wright’s good-looks, but that wasn’t the main problem; rather that she and Seal’s family are given so little screen time that the stakes of Seal’s operations never feel as heavy. In fact, Lucy is seen so little that Wright isn’t given enough time for the audience to qualify her performance; she might be an incredible actress for all we know. A more balanced share of screen time would have worked pushed American Made into that upper echelon.
In the end I was very pleasantly surprised by American Made, the marketing for this film pegged it as a bland Tom Cruise vehicle destined to flop; and while this wasn’t a box office success, it was an artistic triumph for both Cruise and Liman. You won’t go wrong with American Made if you’re looking for quality, entertainment, or both.