American Made Review
Narcos meets The Wolf of Wall Street, Cruise-style
In amidst his almost endless blockbuster output Tom Cruise reunites with Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman for something a little bit different.Reinvigorating blockbuster sci-fi fare with Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow, getting his knuckles bruised in the Reacher films, and ill-advisedly joining Universal's potentially abortive monster franchise in The Mummy, Cruise rarely drifts out of his action-dominated comfort zone these days, making you forget about the early days when he was getting award nods for the likes of Born on the Fourth of July, The Color of Money and Rain Man, and the high points that stand out in his later career - Magnolia, Collateral, Vanilla Sky, Jerry Maguire - so seeing him sign up for a based-on-a-true-story 70s-set tale of drug-running for the CIA and cartels, to be directed by Doug Liman, should have piqued interest.Liman himself has some familiarity with the territory, playing with real-life politics in Fair Game, but the frenetic, almost comical approach taken for American Made seems out of his comfort zone too, until you look back at his career and find his sophomore feature was the underrated gem, Swingers. Although briefly crossing territory with the popular Netflix show Narcos (in an spoiler-filled way), American Made has more in common with Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street - or even the old Gibson/Downey Jr. action/comedy Air America - than Narcos, at least in terms of tone, as it follows Cruise's lucky chancer burn frivolously through his nine lives whilst living life on the edge.
The unbelievable true story (given as much - if not more - freedom to elaborate as Wolf was) follows TWA pilot Barry Seal who, despite his glamorous young wife and solid job, yearns for more excitement, which he gets in spades when recruited by the CIA for covert anti-communist missions in South America. Starting off small and somewhat uneasily, Seal soon finds himself way out of his depth, getting increasingly heavily involved with the major drug cartels - most notably Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel - and graduating from taking aerial shots to running drugs and guns with exponentially increasing risks both on the ground and in the air. To his credit (at least in this fictional interpretation), he hurdles each obstacle with aplomb, reveling in the challenges handed him and the thrill of it all.
A really fun blast but it doesn't necessarily leave a lasting impression
Rather than take the serious crime drama approach of something like the exceptional Narcos, Liman's exploration of Seal's larger-than-life exploits goes down the lovable adrenaline junkie route, basking in the increasing ludicrousness of the situations Seal finds himself in (including crash-landing into a face-full of cocaine and escaping on a push-bike) and exhausting you with the rush of a multitude of close calls. Cruise appears briefly out of his element here and there - always a welcome sight - but the film rarely stops to establish any kind of serious depth to his playboy hotshot rogue pilot. Indeed more cynical - or savvy - viewers might see it as sometimes little more than a dry-run for Cruise's announced return to Top Gun, with some of the most exciting sequences involving him screaming through the skies. To his credit, though, the impossibly youthful 54 year old appears totally at home in the air, making the idea of the return of an aged veteran Maverick appear all the more viable.
With The Wolf of Wall Street-lite approach, Liman makes a thoroughly engaging, entertaining piece with plenty of action and comedy, and Cruise beaming at the centre of it all, totaling committing to the part. This is far from The Mummy; you get your money's worth with the man this time around. But without a harder rating, there's little here to really tarnish Cruise's clean image, and not enough to stretch him far enough out of his comfort zone. He revels in the daredevil exploits, but rarely gets beneath the surface. It's nice to see Cruise do something slightly different, but there's a better story here that could have been told - one with a more clearly sociopathic antihero role for him to sink his teeth into; one where the darker corners of this man's exploits and addictions could have been better exposed. American Made turns out to be a really fun blast, with an engagingly on-form Cruise, but it doesn't necessarily leave a lasting impression.
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