Tom Cruise (one of the last remaining bona fide Movie Stars) and director Doug Liman’s previous film together was one of 2014’s best: Edge of Tomorrow. That film, though not the massive blockbuster it should’ve been, was enough of a hit that a sequel is in the works. And it’s easy to see why: something about Edge created a spark; brought out the best work both director and star had done in years.
It’s a good thing they recognized that result, and now we have American Made to enjoy. One of those “too insane to be true” true stories, with a bit of the ol’ rags-to-riches shine, American Made is Liman’s most energetic and lively film since 1999’s Go. The freewheeling, madcap story is told in a way to match its craziness: blown-out colors, changing film stocks and lenses, Liman jumps decades and countries in a kaleidoscopic manner, with attendant quick cuts and numerous music cues to spare.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, a commercial airline pilot who gets recruited by the CIA, here represented by The Force Awakens’ Domhnall Gleeson. Barry’s too good of a pilot to just be flying commercial, they convince him, and soon he’s shooting reconnaisance photos of communists in South America while they try to shoot him out of the sky. He’s picking up intel from Noriega while delivering payoffs. But then the cartel grounds him and forces him to fly their product into the United States (yes, the cartel that includes Pablo Escobar). And then his government decides to arm the people fighting the communists so he starts flying arms. Your classic tale of hijinks ensuing. For a while, he keeps his wife (Sarah Wright) out of it, until it becomes impossible. Then she gets on board.
Cruise gets to play a charmer, which is usually his strong suit, but a charmer who gets into a lot of opportunities to get in over his head, which really tends to bring out the best in Cruise. This was the same trait that helped make Edge so entertaining (especially in the first half). Wright is a pleasant presence, though her character doesn’t get as meaty a challenge.
For all the upbeat music, saturated hues, and toothy smiles, American Made isn’t just about entertaining its audience; there’s actually a darker underbelly that makes its satire (albeit one based on truth) sharper. While hubris plays a role in his undoing, Barry’s greatest antagonist is his own government. It still feels very much a 2017 movie, and a healthy distrust of authority holds sway by the end.
While it ultimately doesn’t break any molds, and is unable to transcend the genre it’s in (the formula is entirely predictable; it’s just surprising an A-lister like Cruise is the one doing it), American Made is nonetheless a worthy, entertaining addition to those ranks. It’s the second film of both men for this year (Liman’s The Wall with John Cena came out a few weeks ago), and saves both their 2017. Keeping a good thing going, there’s still the Edge of Tomorrow sequel, hopefully not too far away.