American Made is fun while it lasts and the same can be said of the characters living through it for the most part. The film tells the true-life story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a TWA pilot in the late 1970s who’s grown quite bored with his job. Early on, he creates turbulence on a flight just to break the monotony. Life perks up considerably when his services are utilized by the CIA to deal with Manuel Noriega’s Panamanian government and run guns to the Contras in what would become the biggest scandal of President Reagan’s administration. Seal’s shady interactions with the U.S. government aren’t the only item in his new job description as he starts a lucrative side business bringing cocaine back to the states from Columbia. This brings him front and center with Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Meija) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda).
For most of Made‘s fast moving running time, Gary Spinelli’s screenplay creates a world where Seal is gloriously ambivalent as to the dangerous decisions he makes. He moves his family from Louisiana to the tiny town of Mena, Arkansas where the piles of money he’s earning is buried in the backyard and at new banks that miraculously pop up in the community. His wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) doesn’t ask too many questions, but she also makes it humorously clear that she doesn’t trust a thing her hubby is doing.
The tone of American Made can be slightly jarring if you really think about it. We’re dealing with real-life events that spawned real-life tragedies like illegal arms deals and the drug epidemic that swept the 1980s. However, that’s not on Seal’s mind or the picture’s for that matter. He’s too busy creating his own version of the American Dream and his journey through actual history casts him as a Forrest Gump like figure if Forrest had no moral compass.
For this decade, Cruise has mostly concentrated on starring in a mixed bag of action and sci-fi efforts. Made reunites him with his director from one of the better ones, Edge of Tomorrow. It also gives him one of his best roles in years and a true change of pace as far as material. Domhnall Gleeson is his CIA contact Schafer, who’s endlessly energetic about the chaos his agency is creating. One of the most memorable performances comes from Caleb Landry Jones as Seal’s creepy loose cannon of a brother-in-law. You may recognize him as the creepy loose cannon brother from Get Out and Jones has that character nailed in 2017.
American Made doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the table. Some of its story lines have been covered in much more serious works. Yet it’s got a lot of energy and it’s certainly entertaining, with Cruise’s presence a big factor as to why. By its conclusion, we’re aware that its central figure is creating his own turbulence again and he probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
*** (out of four)