Movie Review: ‘AMERICAN MADE’ – Cruise turns off autopilot for wild ride

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

AMERICAN MADE

Rated R, 115 min.
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Tom CruiseDomhnall GleesonSarah WrightJesse PlemonsCaleb Landry Jones and Lola Kirke

Tom Cruise has had quite an interesting career as of late. He is a rare case in that his name has become more in line with a brand rather than an actor. If you go to a Cruise movie, you already have a pretty clear idea of what you’re in for. While AMERICAN MADE may not entirely feel like new territory for fans of his work, it’s one of his best performances and one year’s best.

AMERICAN MADE follows the true story of a pilot named Barry Seal (Cruise) as he is recruited by the CIA to fly reconnaissance planes over conflict ridden areas in 1970s Central America. He quickly gets caught up with real-life drug lord/super villain Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía) and is paid/forced to ferry outrageous amounts of cocaine into the states on his flights back home. As one can imagine, things don’t go well.

The film wastes little time preparing for takeoff and moves along at breakneck speed directly out of the gate until the credits roll. It’s a daunting experience at first, but reinforces its central theme of chaos and puts the viewer right in Barry’s perspective as he desperately tries to keep it together. Part of what makes the film so enjoyable is how Barry is such a deviation from the type of character Cruise usually portrays. Sure, there are the typical unavoidable traits that carry over from his past performances: he’s witty, charismatically overconfident, and he’s got that winning smile. But behind all of that is what sets his character apart: he is constantly in over his head as he scrambles to balance relationships with the CIA, Escobar, and his family.

Tom Cruise is Barry Seal in ‘AMERICAN MADE.’ Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

What makes Barry such a relatable character is that above all else, he just wants to provide for his family and live a happy life at home. Cruise brings much needed subtlety to his performance during scenes with his wife and kids. When all seems to be crashing down around him, he bottles up his fears and takes his family out for ice cream. It’s a nice moment of tranquility in a film that rarely gives the audience time to breathe.

However, Cruise isn’t the only one that gives a performance worthy of discussion. Actress Sarah Wright also proves more than able to hold her own with the likes of Cruise as Barry’s wife, Lucy. In what seems like a setup we’ve seen countless times before in drug fueled crime sagas like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and BREAKING BAD, Lucy is apprehensive at first with Barry’s sudden plunge into a life of secrets and crime, but breaks the mold of the at-home antagonist and never falters in her love and devotion to her husband. What may seem like a step backwards in name of female empowerment actually comes as a breath of fresh air as it creates a dynamic rarely seen in these types of films and gives Barry that one constant in his life that drives him to keep moving forward.

Domhnall Gleeson rounds out the supporting cast as the illusive CIA operative Monty Schafer with undeniable charm in spite of relentlessly disregarding Barry’s safety and wellbeing all for the sake of furthering his career. Gleeson dominates the screen even when sharing scenes with Cruise and never fails to bring a sense of foreboding dread whenever he stops by to stoke the flames in an already blazing fire.

There are times when the frantic nature of the film doesn’t quite stick the landing. Director Doug Liman (THE WALL) tends to take his shaky camera approach a little too far at times to the point where it feels like he’s directing an episode of THE OFFICE. While it hardly makes the film unwatchable, fans of tripods are in for a bumpy ride.

Overall, AMERICAN MADE is a wildly entertaining film that if anything, proves that Cruise is far from ready to settle down.

Grade: B+

AMERICAN MADE opens nationwide tomorrow, Sept. 29, 2017.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.