When it’s all said and done, Tom Cruise will probably the best movie star we’ve ever had.
First off, I’m not condoning the whole Scientology situation. It’s dangerous and pretty scary, but isn’t inherently illegal. It’s not always easy to separate the art from the artist, but I try my best.
Tom Cruise may not be the best actor, but he almost certainly has the best career.
He’s obviously well known for his action work, and the most recent Mission Impossible films (Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation) have been the best of the bunch. He’s also great for adding a little something extra to a solid sci-fi premise, as in Minority Report and Edge Of Tomorrow. Cruise does his best work when he’s given room to try something a little different, particularly in films like Magnolia or Born On The Fourth Of July.
American Made fits most closely in that last group.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, a pilot working for a commercial airline in the 1970’s. He meets a CIA operative named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who asks him to do some covert work for him, which begins mostly as flying over Central American nations and taking pictures. This soon expands into being a courier between the CIA and a Panamanian general. On one of his trips, he is taken by the Medellin cartel and tasked with flying their cocaine into the country. Seal begins doing so and the CIA turns a blind eye, but the DEA does not. Schafer moves Seal and his family to keep them safe.
Schafer soon tasks Seal with running guns to the Nicaraguan Contras. Seal senses pressure from his “friends” (a certain Escobar and Ochoa, if you’re familiar) and sells them the guns instead, as the Contras don’t seem to be too interested in actually fighting a revolution.
In addition to this, American Made also features a subplot about Seal’s untrustworthy brother-in-law (played by the always creepy Caleb Landry Jones), the continuing DEA investigation, and how his wife tries to manage with not having any real idea what her husband is actually doing. While the film rarely ever drops in pace, it does feel a little overstuffed at times, and could probably benefit from shaving maybe 15 minutes from the middle.
Whatever flaws the film has, Tom Cruise himself more than makes up for any of it. A lot of his characters can feel fairly similar, but Barry Seal feels refreshing. This character is one of the most relaxed performances the normally tense Cruise has been able to deliver. He also gets to play around with an accent, an opportunity normally saved for the character actors of the world and not the leading men, and it doesn’t distract or take away from the experience. The simple fact is that few actors working today have the natural charisma and sheer screen magnetism that Cruise has to offer, and he knows exactly the kind of roles that emphasize that, along with those that subvert it. He’s been called the hardest working actor in Hollywood, and that goes beyond just hanging from the side of planes.
While American Made doesn’t quite hold up to director Doug Liman’s best works, being The Bourne Identity and Edge Of Tomorrow if you ask me, it’s still a better-than-average thrill ride that fits nicely in his filmography. It may not end up being the most memorable film, but an entertaining time is enough to ask for.
American Made: 7/10
Without that lead performance from Tom Cruise, American Made could easily fall down to maybe even a 5, but it should also be noted that 15-20 minutes off of the runtime could even boost it to an 8.