As the saying goes, the truth is often stranger than fiction. There are some stories you simply can’t make up. I disagree with that second part, but when it comes to American Made, it does its best to force you into agreeing. This is a true story. Apparently. And it’s even wilder, unpredictable and ridiculous than any fictitious attempt at telling a similar story (even with the supposed inaccuracy here and there). It’s the 1980s. The cold war is still going on. The CIA need a pilot to fly overseas and take incognito, highly classified photographs of enemy basecamps. So, they hire Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a former airline pilot with a tendency to smuggle illegal cigarettes as a side job. If he works for them he’ll finally earn enough money to live a stable life with his family. For him, it’s perfect. So of course he takes it.
However, American Made, while familiar, does contain just enough to break things away from the norm. The execution of its story has been structurally and thematically covered several times over. It’s the American dream gone wrong, now with Tom Cruise at the forefront in replace of Leonardo DiCaprio or any other handsome, middle aged leading men used to deliver a message you’ve already heard before. But what director Doug Liman, fresh off of this month’s newly released The Wall, is able to do with the story puts it back in the spotlight and creates a new take on a familiar structure. He doesn’t tick off all the boxes. He just switches a few of them over.
In every one of his films, you can tell he’s having fun. This is a man who enjoys his craft, and American Made is no exception. While it sees him venturing astray from his typical action hero routes, he’s able to deliver a different side to his stereotyped persona and create a rambunctious, over the top character that’s evidently a whole lot of fun to perform. You won’t find any undead mummies here, and thankfully so. American Made is an actual movie, unlike the aforementioned horror-action –universe set up slop that was his last film (I didn’t actually hate it). He plays Barry Seal as a ‘what if’ scenario in the world of Top Gun. What if Maverick was a gun smuggler and drug trafficker? But, to the audience’s benefit, he pulls it off, and watching him is almost as much fun as he’s having.
There’s plenty of familiarity all throughout American Made, but its big, bold, black, self-indulgent story lends many favours and allows for an entertaining, pleasant surprise of a movie. Everyone involved is having the time of their lives, even the very miscast Domhnall Gleeson. It is, much like the jobs Barry Seal undertakes, a non-stop, ramped up ride that leaves you exhausted and satisfied, even without a desire to go back and revisit it.
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