With the fetid stench of the latest reboot of The Mummy still lingering in the nostrils, another summer film with Tom Cruise playing a man of questionable moral fibre might not be top of everyone’s viewing list. Thankfully, however, American Made has a much fresher aroma.
Ostensibly based on a true story from the 1970s and 80s when the Cold War was still a thing, Cruise plays TWA pilot and small time Cuban cigar smuggler, Barry Seal. After being approached by an apparent CIA operative known as Schafer (played by Domhnall Gleeson), Seal begins working for the CIA, albeit in a legally questionable capacity.
As the action progresses, things only get shadier and more ridiculous. Seal becomes involved in smuggling cocaine for the Colombian cartel, running guns to central America, and literally ends up with more money than he knows what to do with. Needless to say these actions garner much attention, mostly from various state and federal law enforcement agencies.
There are some obvious parallels to be drawn between American Made and Martin Scorsese’s 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street. Both are based on the true stories of charming but seriously flawed anti-heroes, whose shady business dealings get them into trouble. Like Leonardo DiCaprio before him, Cruise takes what is potentially a thoroughly unlikeable character and injects a healthy dose charm and enthusiasm so that you at times forget he’s actually a pretty sketchy guy, to put it mildly.
But it’s not just Cruise who puts in an enjoyable performance. The rest of the cast are also on form, particularly Caleb Landry Jones as Seal’s sticky-fingered Confederate-flag flying brother-in-law, JB. Sarah Wright plays Seal’s wife, Lucy, and although her role is almost entirely restricted to reacting to the consequences of Seal’s actions.
While it would be over-dramatic to call this a political film, there is a strong satirical undercurrent running through this. Through Seal’s narration we get an “America the great” interpretation of the US’s activities in Central and Latin America. However, the portrayal of events paint the CIA, The White House, and the President as increasingly incompetent and out of control. This culminates in a cringe-worthy segment of real life news footage of President Reagan avoiding a question regarding the now infamous Iran-Contra scandal by talking about a turkey, whilst Vice-President Bush hides in the shadows.
Although this is theoretically based on a true story, it appears that the makers have played pretty fast and loose with the actual events, so everything here should be taken with a pinch of salt. That said, this is a summer movie, not a documentary, and on that level it works perfectly well. Silly, entertaining, and genuinely exciting thanks to some great directorial choices by Doug Liman, you really get wrapped up in the events.
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