MOVIE REVIEW: ‘American Made’ is a refreshingly entertaining surprise

Thanks to a wonderful central performance from Tom Cruise and astute direction from Doug Liman, this film avoids many of the clichéd downfalls of typical fall biopics

| September 28, 2017

Despite all his concerning eccentricities, from a purely entertainment-based standpoint, I truly believe that Tom Cruise is my favorite working actor. His films are consistently entertaining, he has an undeniably unique on-screen presence, he works hard in achieving the best results for his films and he has a real range in being able to distinguish himself in each performance. He’s what I believe to be the last true movie star alive, one that commands attention and earns the name credit above the title of the films he’s in. Cruise, however affable, hit a stumble earlier in the summer with the critical and commercial disaster that was “The Mummy,” which by all means was a mindless, fun popcorn flick, but when taking away Cruise’s standards, the film fell flat for most viewers. Still, even at his worst, Cruise brings a charisma to his roles in all aspects that really sets him apart from what we’ve come to expect from celebrities. While his personal life isn’t always the brightest beacon of hope, I’ve also heard nothing but amazing things about Cruise’s ego and kindness to fans, reinforcing my thought that he is the last true movie star yet.

Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is a Trans World Airlines pilot at the end of the 1970s when he is recruited by a enigmatic CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) thanks to his impressive reputation. His job: to survey the land of various Central American countries threatened by the spread of communism by air. After completing a surveillance mission in Colombia, Seal is approached by the Medellin Cartel in their early stages, forcing Seal’s hand in transporting Cocaine from Colombia to Miami for a hefty price, all behind the CIA’s back. As Seal’s journey continues, his multiple lives, including his one as a father and husband to Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), start to become dangerously intertwined, threatening the peaceful, affluent existence Seal amassed.

On paper and in its trailer, “American Made” looks like a standard, straightforward, dull biopic, but the way in which director Doug Liman constructs the film makes the story being told all the more insane and interesting to watch. It would’ve been easy for another filmmaker to approach “American Made” from a strict storytelling perspective, but Liman approaches it as a unique story that deserves a unique visual treatment. From the opening logos of the film, it’s clear that style is very important in the construction of “American Made,” but Liman, like he did before with Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow,” is able to balance visual splendor with storytelling prowess without ever breaking a sweat. This makes “American Made” feel a lot more fun and authentic in itself.

And for a film that doesn’t have any violence or action in it, “American Made” manages to be both fun and intense at the same time, especially if you find yourself unaware of the true story the film is based upon. This is a film that rests its chips in uncertainty, and the twists and turns that “American Made” makes is something you wouldn’t expect from a film of this nature, but if we’re learned anything from recent Liman films, it’s to expect the unexpected.

As always, Cruise is absolutely fabulous in the film, evoking a different kind of R-rated charisma (this is Cruise’s first R-rated film in nine years) than we’ve come to expect from the affable actor in recent years. Seal isn’t “Mission: Impossible’s” Ethan Hunt, nor is he Jack Reacher here, this is a much darker, far more cynical character than you would think from a Cruise leading role, but this only shows the range that he still has as an actor left, even if his renaissance has been rooted in action films. Gleeson also is quite great in “American Made,” too. Defying the mousy, fidgety geek role that he typically takes in films, this occasionally über-confident CIA agent is a breath of fresh air for the actor to really expand his acting gaze beyond the tropes that have worked so well for him in the past.

While the film is a beautiful film to watch, “American Made” is arguably not worth the limited IMAX release it’s receiving. The film utilizes wonderful locations and gorgeous aerial photography in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio that should work well for a giant IMAX screen, but “American Made” is far too dialogue-heavy to justify paying extra to see the film in anything but a standard format. From a screen size-queen, this should speak wonders.

“American Made” defies the tropes that both white man biopics and cartel movies both take in their executions. The film never glorifies Seal in any way, nor does it demonize the cartel members Seal deals with normally (within reason, when Pablo Escobar gets crazy, that’s understandable). This is a film that doesn’t rely on the character at the center of it, but rather the story that takes place around the character. That doesn’t mean that Seal doesn’t go through any character development or that he lacks depth, but “American Made” isn’t a film that feels one way or the other about its central character, it simply presents the story with no subtext and lets the audience do the rest.

“American Made” is an impressive film that brings Liman and Cruise back together for an exciting, interesting and incredibly fun film that never features a single action sequence or any scene of violence at its helm. This is a film that finds a story and runs with it, letting Cruise and Liman both do their unique things in making “American Made” the refreshing surprise it is. The trailer for the film paints “American Made” as a sort of standard biopic that gets “crazy” à la “The Wolf of Wall Street,” glorifying an excessive lifestyle for the sake of bathing in white privilege. Luckily, the film finds a visual style and unique storytelling opportunity that, paired with Liman’s zeal and Cruise’s charisma, makes for a really peculiar, successful film experience that we haven’t seen the likes of this year so far.

4/5

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Directed by: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays, Lola Kirke.
Runtime: 115 minutes.
Rating: R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.
Also available in IMAX and premium large format theaters.

Universal Pictures and Cross Creek Pictures present, in association with Imagine Entertainment, a Brian Grazer production, in association with Vendian Entertainment, Quadrant Pictures and Hercules Film Fund, a Doug Liman film, “American Made”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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