American Made is a less successful collaboration between Tom Cruise and Doug Liman than 2014 sci-fi action thriller Edge of Tomorrow, but it’s not Cruise’s fault. In American Made, Cruise continues to be insanely charismatic, here depicting American pilot and notorious arms & drugs smuggler Barry Seal, a larger-than-life figure out of a sordid era of American foreign policy.
On the whole, American Made is a really fun movie, a rollicking roller-coaster ride that follows the smuggling of arms and intelligence and massive amounts of cocaine, as well as a comedic foray into money laundering, with Seal crossing paths with such historical figures as Manuel Noriega and Pablo Escobar. I’m not equipped to speak to the accuracy of the storytelling here, but if nothing else, American Made serves as a scathing indictment of 40+ years of American foreign policy, through the lens of a CIA agent we come to know as “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson).
Schafer is something of a Faustian figure here, as when Barry Seal agrees to work with this slimy figure we quickly realize that he’s made a deal with a devil. Gleeson is quite good in this shifty role, and as we root for Barry Seal, we come to dread his very appearance.
Of course, Barry Seal is no boy scout himself, even before he meets Schafer. It’s very much a testament to Cruise’s strength as an actor that the character of Barry Seal is as charismatic and fun to watch as he was; in lesser hands, he certainly would have been a much more unlikable figure.
The downfall of Barry Seal is reminiscent of some of the most memorable cinematic bad breaks, like Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Breaking Bad itself. Unfortunately, American Made suffers for this comparison. Doug Liman, while a capable action director, is no Martin Scorsese, and his directorial flourishes tend to distract more than they add. I also found that screenwriter Gary Spinelli failed to give the film an appropriate amount of emotional ballast to connect the audience to Barry beyond concern for his personal well-being; the depiction of his home life is notably lackluster, with his wife proving to be something of the cliche of the doting worrywart, with little personality of her own. I ultimately felt like the creative team didn’t necessarily have a great grasp on some key elements of the film that would have made it a more wholly effective realization of this character and his adventure.
Still, for its various flaws, this is an incredibly fun film to watch. Outside of the realm of action filmmaking, Tom Cruise hasn’t pushed himself as an actor in a while, and this film serves as a great reminder of just how funny Cruise can be when he tries. It’s something I genuinely hope he taps into more frequently as he ages out of being a viable action star.