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'American Made' lives up to its title, but lacks in precision

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Tom Cruise, no matter what his personal life holds, is a bonafide, big box office movie star. Even his latest film, The Mummy, which was a critically dismissed domestic flop but boomed in China, managed to gross over $400 million. While “American Made” may be the same case, Cruise displays his ability to haul in any viewer’s attention.

Doug Liman helms “American Made,” based on the true story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a commercial airbus pilot turned drug-running, reconnaissance-photo-taking CIA hire. He enjoys his new position with the CIA but things get dicey when he decides to get involved with South American drug trafficking behind the CIA’s back.

Though the premise, and the plot events themselves, are staged as a thriller complete with high tension scenes, the film is remarkably funny; thanks in much part to the fresh script by the fairly unheard of Gary Spinelli. Tom Cruise’s star power and perfect comedic timing help out, too.

Domnhall Gleeson stars as Schafer, the CIA Agent who discovers Barry in the first place. He appears only in short spurts but does well, and along with grounding the film and the story itself, he adds some remarkable humor in the final act.

Obviously, there are a lot of dramatic liberties taken with the film versus the real life story; however, Liman and Spinelli use some absurdity to skew what feels real and what doesn’t. This not only adds some hilarity but it convinces audiences to invest more into the dramatic pieces of the film.

The film is not the best of the best, there are slight pacing issues that arise as the film covers over a decade of Barry’s life. More prominently, the film doesn’t convince the audience of the legitimacy of the situations at hand as well as it could have. “The Big Short” did this through informational celebrity cameos where they literally spell out the logistics of the 2008 stock market crash, while “American Made” relies only on a Cruise voiceover that simplifies everything. That said, Cruise’s narration pays off in the end through some thematic power.

“American Made” covers ground we’ve seen before in films like “Sicario” ─ discussing American negligence towards the drug trafficking problem. However, “American Made” is less so about the global spectrum and more focused on American elitism when it comes to the means used in globalization that started in the ‘70’s and seemingly has no end: funding war efforts, supplying contras with weapons and so much more. As Gleeson puts it in his introductory scene, “it’s America at its fucking finest!”

Clearly, Liman is condemning American international efforts in the late 20th century and sees Barry Seal’s true story as the vehicle for his message. Cruise isn’t exactly rebranding himself, but he is taking a new approach to this role which allows him to portray American ideals that have been rooted in American culture since 1776.

“American Made” is not perfect but it manages to make you consistently laugh and still pushes forward a message about America’s inner workings and the flaws that stem from it.

Grade: B+

draju@theeagleonline.com


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