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AMERICAN MADE gets 7/10 Cruising altitude

Director Doug Liman
Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright


In 1978 Alder Berriman “Barry” Seal (Tom Cruise) is a washed out pilot flying for a domestic American airline. In the space of less than a decade, Barry would go on to be embroiled in a smuggling operation that would tie the CIA to the Medellin Cartel. American Made is his story. One that is certainly stranger than fiction, as it delves into the murky world of drugs and arms smuggling with ties to counter-intelligence operations, stretching from the jungles of Central America to the halls of the White House itself.

This is a film that takes excessive glee in its portrayal of the morally reprehensible. It is also a valid narrative choice. After all, a good villain a should be the hero in their own narrative, and Barry Seal is certainly a compelling anti-hero. However it allows American Made a few choice opportunities, which it is quick to capitalise on.

Firstly, the humorous elements certainly lean into the surreal absurdness of the situation, as common goals made strange bedfellows between drug runners, rebels, and government agencies. The escalating situation that Seal finds himself the middleman to, is portrayed as a farce, and one that he happens to turn to his own profit. That farcical nature also helps in highlighting the political hypocrisy.

Secondly, it allows for audiences to form an attachment with Seal. Cruise is perfectly cast here, bringing his own love him or hate him style to the character. That confidence and unwavering cockiness shines, often exploited for comedic potential as the situation gets more and more ludicrous. Seal is often out of his depth, but uses bravado to barge his way through. We as an audience can like him, and easily forget (or excuse) the fact that he’s a drug smuggler.

Thirdly, it allows for a quicker narrative. Its tongue in cheek take allows for a quick dip into events, just covering the highlights. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) doesn’t need to dwell in the larger emotions of the moment, he never lingers in the discomfort. There’s an economy of style, allowing for the plot to be build with all the structural integrity of a Jenga tower. That possibility of the inevitable collapse hangs over all of American Made, and when that tower does start to totter, that’s when you do get some of that emotional content. However this is never the real concern, rather it is telling the tale in as engaging a way as possible. In that fashion it’s as cavalier and as charismatic as its lead character.

The downside is that American Made does loose a little in terms of dramatic heft with this approach. Although the audience is stunned and bemused by the events portrayed, we are not really shocked, and certainly a long way from indignant. Here Liman does drop the ball, failing to break through his own hyper slick world to the darker heart of the corruption he is portraying.

Slick, and entertaining, American Made takes you down the rabbit hole of one of the oddest pieces of political corruption I’ve ever seen. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in flair and charisma.


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