Guns, drugs, and miscast roles
By Jason Wiese
I walked into American Made, Tom Cruise’s second release this year, with one hope: that it would be better than his first release of the year, The Mummy. Given my feelings of that film (see my review here), I did not think it would have been much of a challenge to make a film better than that one. Yet, it appears to me, at least, that director Doug Liman set up a different challenge for himself with this movie: out-Soderbergh Steven Soderbergh.
American Made is an intriguing story based on fact that pulls out many of the bells and whistles of the signature style of dark comedy nearly perfected, in my opinion, by the aforementioned director of 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven and this year’s Logan Lucky. Cruise plays Barry Seal, a Transworld Airlines pilot dissatisfied with the simple living he leads with his wife, Lucy, (Sarah Wright) and their children. In 1978, a CIA agent known to him as Schafer (Domnhall Gleeson) recruits him to fly over South America and take aerial photographs to monitor any possible drug activity. Seal loves the work and the money and excitement that comes with it, but he wants more of both. By 1980, he is caught by the Medellin Cartel (headed by Jorge Ochoa, Carlos Ledher, and the infamous Pablo Escobar) who, instead of killing him, decide to use him to smuggle their product into the States, which he agrees to do. By working with both the CIA and the Medellin Cartel, Seal grows richer and richer, putting his life further and further in danger.
The film’s greatest strengths (clever visual cues that effectively heighten the subject matter, a time capsule’s worth of vintage stock footage, 80’s style cinematography and turning tragedy into laughs) also prove to be a weakness in my opinion. As much as there is to admire about the style Limon brings to this already wholly entertaining story, it is difficult for me to get past how similar it is to the work of Soderbergh, but if Soderbergh wanted to parody his own work. Limon over-directs a few scenes too many. Things get really uncomfortable when he begins to frame nearly every shot of a single character zoomed in very closely to their face into a corner of the frame and tilted at an uneven angle. This is a choice that has often amused me in the past, but in moderation.
Despite all of this, the film’s weakest element for me, unfortunately, is its star. Cruise, an actor whom I do respect for his craft (see Collateral, for instance), is miscast as Seal. Throughout the film, he becomes a stronger antagonist than protagonist, not just due to how Cruise handles the role, but also his increasingly slimy motivations. However, that is easily forgiven when compared to Cruise’s constant struggle to maintain a Southern accent. Watching him fall in and out of the accent throughout the entire film grows unbearable.
This all sounds like a negative review, and admittedly I am partial to this film quite a bit. But, once the gorgeously designed ending credits roll, it is easy to look back on the truly great moments this film has and forget what hurts its potential. It may be uneven and its A-list star does not quite fit the lead role, but it succeeds as some good, old fashioned entertainment.