Barry Seal lived the kind of life that is destined to one day be made into a feature film. And on paper, there’s no actor more perfect for the role of Seal himself than Tom Cruise. Think about it: Seal was a pilot who smuggled drugs for Pablo Escobar, became embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal that marred Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and may have been assassinated by the CIA. He’s basically two parts Maverick to one part Jerry Maguire.
And when he’s on form, it works. As in Edge of Tomorrow, director Doug Liman knows how to channel Cruise’s high-energy persona for comedic effect. Unfortunately, Cruise turns out to be the undoing of American Made as well as its salvation: his very Tom Cruise-ness outshining what turns out to be a paper-thin exploration of a fascinating life.
Liman is clearly trying to ride the same groove as The Wolf of Wall Street – at one point Seal’s Arkansas home-turned-McMansion is so overflowing with dirty cash he can’t find new places in the yard to bury it – but the excesses never feel excessive enough to make the fall from grace really hit home.
Nor does the film have much to say about the political skulduggery going on behind the scenes. The Iran-Contra scandal is ripe for satire; not least when one considers the hypocrisy of the US government aiding drug smugglers in Nicaragua while Nancy Reagan was telling youngsters to “just say no.” Sadly, the film can only manage a few potshots.
American Made frustratingly never digs quite as deep as one might hope, but while the high is a fleeting one it’s certainly exhilarating while it lasts. Tom Cruise’s shtick may be familiar, but thankfully it shows no sign of getting old anytime soon.
CAST: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
WRITER: Gary Spinelli
SYNOPSIS: A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.