American Made (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Doug Liman, US, 2017, 115 mins

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

By George Meixner

If you believe that Tom Cruise is Sandi Toksvig masquerading as one of the most famous film stars in the world – it’s not the most ludicrous thing you’ll see that day if you watch American Made after you’ve laughed at the meme.

To clarify, this is not to put a downer on the film – incredulity, bafflement, farce and entertainment are the mainstays of this ‘based on real events’ dramatisation of the exploits of TWA pilot Barry Seal in the 70’s and 80’s.

It’s easy to be cynical about Cruise, but he’s very dedicated to his fans, he does his own stunts and still adds an undeniable charismatic presence to all his work. Just enjoy this and don’t think about whether it’s a crude tactical move to play blustering, blundering characters at this point in his career. He does it pretty well here and punches in more acting than he’s had to do for a long time.

It doesn’t take long for middle-of-the-road commercial ‘bus’ pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) to start work with the CIA (primarily ‘Schafer’ played by Gleeson) in exchange for looking the other way to some extra imports he was caught bringing in. From there out, Seal plays offs drug cartels, US law enforcement agencies and even Central American government officials against each other as he desperately tries to stay out of jail by juggling all his interests and for this he is handsomely rewarded in drug money.

It shouldn’t be as funny as it is considering the corrupt tactics used by US officials whereby all sorts of illegal activities are sanctioned as being “for the good guys”. All these aspects are constantly laughed off in order to maintain the unwieldy canter of events. This is clearly morally dubious and all sorts of crimes are glorified, but to be fair the film ballses it out. It’s so stupid it works fine.

The story is of historical record and was addressed in due course. Sit back and turn off your conscious. When Seal crashes his plane in a residential area to avoid the DEA and emerges covered in cocaine like a child caught rolling in a room full of sherbet, apologising and paying off a nearby kid for his trouble and for taking his bike with packets of powder as he cycles off with his knees around his ears, it’s just great slapstick.

Cruise seems to have a smirk on his face, as though like Seal, he can’t quite believe his luck at getting paid so much to have this much fun. This was also fine, usually it would be irritating, but it was actually very infectious. The motivation for Seal’s smuggling comes in the form of his wife (Wright) and growing family. Wright, playing an ex-KFC girl, seems to be the only one to see that Barry is a dubious customer, not malicious, but she suffer fools and has some killer lines.

As the money rolls in and their circumstances change, the interplay between husband and wife are increasingly the source of humour as the flights and wheeler-dealing get a little repetitive. There isn’t much emotional depth to the relationship but Wright and Cruise share enough comic chemistry to keep the domestic aspect of his life interesting too.

How has he got away with it for so long?