Review – American Made

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Tom Cruise may be one of the last genuine movie stars that we have today. In this day and age where the franchise name (as opposed to actors) is what get’s a movie greenlit, Cruise is one of the few people that can still get a movie made because he’s the guy that’s going to be front and center on the poster. Cruise is a star in this movie, he’s the one that makes it work. As Barry Seal, a pilot turned drug smuggler, Cruise is able to come off as charming, reckless, likable, and possibly insane all at the same time.

Loosely based on true events American Made is a movie that revolves almost entirely around one character. This could have easily been a movie where you walk away thinking it was too focused on one guy. After all, this is a movie that is dealing with a bizarrely fascinating time in the United States, one that could take this movie in a hundred different directions. However, the movie focuses squarely on Barry the entire time, but Cruise makes sure that if he’s going to be the center of attention for the entire movie then he’s going to earn it. Earlier this year Cruise starred in The Mummy, a movie that is supposed to kick of a mega-franchise of monster movies. It’s the kind of movie that is becoming more and more popular, a franchise driven movie rather than a vehicle for a particular star. While The Mummy was met with mixed results at best, American Made is a clear indication that Cruise is still able to take a movie and help bring it to the next level with his star power.

At the start of the movie, Barry Seal is a pilot for the airline TWA. Barry’s life is setup to appear mundane and monotonous, as if to say, “Yes, this guy flies planes for a living, but he’s doing it in the most boring fashion possible.” We get a few instance where we see Barry aching for some thrill, any kind of thrill, in his life, so when he’s contacted by the CIA to take flyover pictures of camps in Central America, he jumps at the opportunity. This job evolves into serving as a courier between the CIA and General Noriega in Panama, which presents an opportunity for Barry to add drug smuggling to his trips in order to make an additional prophet on the side. Flying packages to Panama evolves into Barry running guns to Nicaraguan Contras, which Barry turns into trading guns to the cartel.

With each step, Barry’s life seems to get a little more wild as the situation escalates. Not to mention that while the CIA is turning a blind eye to Barry’s extra activities, he’s still forced to dodge the DEA and the FBI as well as local law enforcement. The whole thing is narrated by Barry himself through a series of VHS tapes. Seal explains not only what he’s doing, but the political background of the time. With the aid of clips from old Ronald Reagan movies and cartoons, that come off as a twisted Schoolhouse Rock cartoon, the movie paints a picture of an operation that’s being run on the fly, centered around the main character who jumps after every opportunity more eager for the action than for the plan.  

In many ways American Made presents itself as “Wolf of Wall Street but with planes.” You have your main character played by a big name movie star. The character goes from a nobody to the top of the pile through illicit means. Like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Barry Seal never seems to question the morality of his actions, or how other people could be affected by what he’s doing. And because of that, the movie never really focuses on the darker side either. American Made presents drug running as a fun, cool, exciting line of work. One that pays extremely well too as we get shot after shot of Seal and his family trying to find new places to stash away their money. Seal’s life doesn’t even seem all that dangerous, but in many ways it’s like a non-stop party.

American Made plays it fast and loose with it’s own plot at times, jumping from moment to moment, never really pausing to take a break. But that fast pace and high energy keeps the movie fun and engaging for its entire run time. It’s crazy, it’s madcap, it’s over the top, but it’s a thrill to watch and experience.

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