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American Made – Movie Review

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American Made – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Tom Cruise is one of the few actors today who fits the description of movie star. Even mediocre films are slightly elevated by him flashing his million dollar smile and bringing his charm to the table. American Made is all over the place in its depiction of Barry Seal’s role as a CIA informant and is rather unwieldy in retelling his story. The reason this almost unsympathetic person even has our curiousity is Cruise’s screen presence. Director Doug Liman tries to play around with storytelling by utilising a bunch of different conventions, but it all makes American Made slightly disorienting and one finds themselves at a distance from the material.

The film jumps from place to place and expects the audience to keep up, yet despite the rushed nature of the execution, the pacing still feels off. The screenplay, credited to Gary Spinelli, tries to throw a ton of exposition at the audience and there is just far too much to process as the film speeds along from one scenario to another. It doesn’t take long for Barry to go from taking pictures for the CIA to delivering drugs for the Medellin crime lords. Liman formats the story with humourous uses of archival footage and Barry re-telling it via video recordings. The film spends so much time contextualizing everything that character development falls a little short and the plot gets rather messy.

Barry doesn’t feel like he changes a whole lot as Cruise plays him with a similar, slightly crazed tone through the entirety of American Made. Cruise admittedly plays the role well and with a genuine sense of fun, but he really is doing the heavy lifting here. We get glimpses of his romance with his wife, but she feels rather underdeveloped. Her slacker brother gets more of an arc than Lucy Seal does. Barry’s children are hardly even a focal point. The more intriguing story-arc comes from Domnhall Gleeson’s CIA agent, who has to deal with this individual he has recruited to help his cause. One almost wishes this was a film told from Agent “Schafer”’s point-of-view.

Liman shows a real dedication to re-creating the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, so it doesn’t feel jarring when he cuts between his scenes and the archival footage. He even hilariously plays with the opening studio logos. The airplane sequences are impressively directed and it’s in those scenes where director of photography Cesar Charlone’s camera work shines as we find ourselves right in the cockpit. One highlight is a plane crash sequence that is quite a spectacular use of special effects. Most of the time, the camera uncontrollably shakes in a way that’s clearly meant to evoke a documentary format, but is instead monumentally distracting. Even in simple dialogue scenes, the camera can’t stop moving and this repeatedly grates on the nerves.

American Made is a jumbled retelling of the lead-up to the Iran-Contra Scandal, but Doug Liman does direct it with some amount of gusto. There are multiple points where the film resigns itself to letting Tom Cruise do his thing. One can almost always count on Cruise giving an entertaining performance and he provides a fun turn as Barry Seal. One just wishes the film as a whole had taken another look at itself in the editing room. You’re more likely to find more introduction in a more compact manner from a Wikipedia page. The final result is far too unwieldy as it tries to throw a million details and plot points at the audience at once and the viewer is forced to keep up.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison