Quick Hit: Tom Cruise stars in this perfectly average drug runner movie from 2017.
I remember when this hit theaters last year. I also remember it doing a decent amount to make back its US budget, but really nothing else besides that at the box office. American Made stars Tom Cruise as he continues to land morally ambiguous roles in this newest version of this career. Here, he reteams with the director of one of my favorite movies I covered for this site, Edge of Tomorrow’s Doug Liman. Cruise’s character is none other than Barry Seal, a pilot recruited by the CIA, then the drug lords of Colombia, eventually turning into a giant, license-to-print-money-and-bury-it-in-your-backyard-scheme.
At the surface level, American Made is a pretty entertaining film. There’s a lot of action, from the different flights and close calls that Seal experiences, and the high lifestyle that comes with having a ton of money. Cruise is still undeniably as charming as he ever was, flashing his trademark grin while attempting not to come across as too sleezy. But there’s also a hint of fear in the smile, a hint of nervousness that is hidden in it that continues to show why Cruise is such a huge draw – he’s actually a good actor that lives as an action movie star.
There’s also some pretty good cinematography hiding in this film, which is only hidden by Liman’s manic pace. There’s a lot of different scenes to work with, from the jungles of Colombia to the Gulf of Mexico, the fields of Arkansas to the swamps of Louisiana. It’s all really lush, textured shots, and then all of a sudden we’re off again for another of Barry’s questionable life choices.
That’s probably what I disliked most about this film – there’s really no depth to it. Barry is reflective of this – there’s no depth to his character. That’s not specific to Barry either – most of the side characters can barely be called “characters”, as the flicker in and out of the story with almost no impact to the plot. This movie could really have been called “Tom Cruise as Barry Seal: Drug Smuggler” and it would have still gotten the point across. There’s no emotional growth, even if there is a vague attempt at it towards the end of the movie. There also doesn’t seem to be very high stakes to any of Barry’s actions either, because he snakes out of all the consequences fairly quickly.
Most of this lack of depth comes from attempting to make a movie that is both a comedy and a drama all at the same time. There’s just enough laughs that land to call it amusing, but most of this keeps the dramatic elements in the movie from emerging. A better movie is hidden in here that either focuses more on the over-the-top action stunts that the film has, or dives into a character drama about what caused Barry to act like he did. It’s interesting to note the extreme liberties taken at the adaption of this story – I took the time to watch some of the extras about the film and a lot is greatly exaggerated – because the dramatic story was there, just ignored.
In conclusion, I found this movie to just be average, despite a decent performance from Cruise. I’m going to give it a “C”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"