26th Aug2017

‘American Made’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Review by Matthew Turner

Stars: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen, Alejandro Edda, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke | Written by Gary Spinelli | Directed by Doug Liman


Tom Cruise reteams with Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman for this slickly entertaining, if slightly familiar comedy thriller based on the true story of pilot-turned-drug smuggler-slash-CIA conscript Barry Seale.

American Made begins in 1978, with bored TWA pilot Seale (Cruise) being tapped by CIA agent Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) to fly covert surveillance missions over Central America. When those missions involve Colombia, Seale is approached by the Medellín Cartel, who offer him large sums of cash if he smuggles cocaine into America.

Things quickly spiral out of control as the CIA task Barry with running Russian guns to the Contras in Nicaragua, only for the Cartel to make him a better offer for them, which he cheerfully accepts. Meanwhile, having relocated to smalltown Mena, Arkansas with the children, Barry’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) struggles to find somewhere to hide all the massive bags of money he keeps bringing home.

Using the framing device of Barry narrating his own story by recording a series of confessional video tapes, Gary Spinelli’s script establishes an engaging Goodfellas-esque vibe, the added twist being that the story is so ridiculous that Barry can scarcely believe it himself.

Cruise is on top form here, his toothy grin and cocksure charisma lending convincing credence to Barry’s seeming ability to charm his way out of a variety of sticky situations (it’s safe to say that the real Barry wasn’t quite as blessed in the looks department). Admittedly, the lines between star vehicle and biopic occasionally become slightly blurred, but it’s hard to complain when Cruise is this much fun – he even allows a couple of cheeky bottom flashes, that’s how he’s enjoying himself.

In addition, Gleeson is good value as Schafer and Olsen makes the most of what is otherwise a fairly limited part (“Do you trust me?” “NO!” is a particularly good running joke), though there are also a number of under-used supporting players (notably Jesse Plemons and Lola Kirke as Mena’s smalltown Sheriff and his wife) whose contributions were all too obviously shortened by a presumably ruthless edit.

The exception to this is Caleb Landry-Jones, who expands his ever-increasing gallery of pasty white trash weirdos with his turn as Barry’s ne’er-do-well brother-in-law, who comes perilously close to bringing the whole operation down around his ears.

Liman directs American Made with an infectious sense of energy that gives the film a palpable momentum, aided by some sharp-eyed editing and kinetic camerawork from acclaimed Uruguayan cinematographer César Charlone (who shot City of God). He also has a nice line in revealing throwaway details, such as Barry’s response when he’s told that there’s money blowing all over the garden when one of his bags splits (“I’ll rake it up tomorrow”).

On top of that, the production design and costume work are excellent, with Barry’s ever-present aviator sunglasses providing a nice little callback to Cruise’s role in Top Gun. There’s also a carefully chosen period soundtrack, which makes strong use of a number of ’70s and ’80s hits, as well as cheesy standards like Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven.

It’s fair to say that there’s a certain amount of familiarity to the story, particularly if you’ve already seen Blow (2001) or, more recently, last year’s War Dogs, which tracked similar trajectories for their protagonists. It’s also disappointing that the script only scratches the surface of the Iran-Contra scandal, with Barry seemingly aware of just the bare bones details of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans unfolding in Washington at the time.

However, those minor quibbles aside, Cruise and Liman prove an irresistible combination, resulting in an entertaining romp that pushes all the right buttons.

**** 4/5

American Made is in UK cinemas now.


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