American Made Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright. Directed by Doug Liman. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
It’s likely that just a portion of the events illustrated in American Made really occurred to pilot Barry Seal in the way the motion picture represents them, however what Doug Liman’s breezy film lacks in verisimilitude it offsets in entertainment value, at least for a while. The genuine Seal worked for both the United States federal government and the Medellín drug cartel in the 1970s and ’80s, playing both sides by smuggling drugs, intelligence and weapons back and forth across borders to numerous factions. As played by Tom Cruise at his most charismatic, the motion picture’s Barry is a careless however likable bad boy who’s constantly up for a difficulty, and isn’t really worried about where his loan or his task opportunities are coming from.
With its narrative from a morally compromised real-life primary character and its morbidly comic tone, Made is one of the many descendants of Martin Scorsese’s criminal activity impressive Goodfellas, and it falls someplace around last year’s very similar War Pet dogs in its effectiveness at balancing glib humor with severe criminal activity. Although Seal in fact wound up playing a crucial role in the drug war of the ’80s and the eventual Iran-Contra scandal, Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli are less thinking about social commentary than in tossing their lead character into ever more extravagant circumstances and after that winking at the audience over how crazy all of it is.
That’s enjoyable to view in the beginning, thanks largely to among Cruise’s most purely satisfying performances in a while, but it ultimately becomes repetitive, particularly because Cruise’s charm is pretty much all the character development that Barry gets. The supporting characters are even less distinctive, with Domhnall Gleeson as a CIA handler so inscrutable he doesn’t even get a genuine name, and Sarah Wright (playing Barry’s spouse Lucy) as the most recent much-too-young love interest for Cruise to overshadow onscreen.
Liman mixes classic archival video, periodic animation and Barry’s first-person camcorder testimony in with gritty handheld shots and sweeping vistas of Barry’s numerous plane journeys. It’s an in some cases cluttered style that represents the installing pressure of Barry’s life, as he’s spread thinner and thinner by the demands of his different managers, while trying to keep his own blossoming criminal empire in the backwoods of Arkansas. Offered the shady characters for whom he works and the luxury of his way of life, it’s difficult to feel any compassion for Barry as he finds himself in over his head, but his life is an amusing mess, and Made is an entertaining counterpoint to the more major depictions of the ’80s drug trade in current TV series Narcos and Snowfall. Even if Barry wasn’t a hero does not suggest he wasn’t great fun.