Released: 25 August 2017 (UK)
Length: 115 Minutes
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Domnhall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Frank Licari, and Caleb Landry Jones
Split between serious dramas and light-hearted efforts, adaptations of real stories often swap back and forth between these two focuses. American Made, the latest biopic to hit cinemas, once again takes a thorny subject matter and transforms it into a rapid-fire drama with a healthy helping of creativity.
Taking place in the late 1970s and eventually the '80s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is an airline pilot who comes across a CIA agent named Schafer (Domnhall Gleeson), who tasks him with flying reconnaissance missions to assist in disrupting communist regimes in Colombia and Nicaragua. What starts as a straightforward way of making some extra money for his family, turns into a massive operation with Barry pulling favours and winning approval from both sides of the drug and weapons trade. Staying almost entirely focused on the main character and his errands, it’s incredibly energetic, occasionally dipping into narration territory to frame the action. American Made is very much a rags-to-riches story, sharing the same over-the-top flair as last year’s War Dogs and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street; as the pressure piles on and the number of contracts stack up, Barry finds himself bouncing between North and South America, barely managing to avoid the prying eyes of the law. This is where the film is at its most riveting, with a few slices of humour thrown in for good measure. Because of the singular focus on Barry and his exploits, American Made also takes a well-rounded look at the shady deals that went on behind the scenes, giving ample screen-time to both the US government, drug cartels, and everyone in-between.
American Made’s characters are very simplistic, preferring to let the narrative and action deliver most of the engagement, occasionally to its detriment. Tom Cruise brings his charm to full effect here, being particularly great in the narrations where he throws in all his enthusiasm. Domnhall Gleeson is also good; there’s a definitive shift between his time in the offices and his interactions with Barry, working to hide their business from the public eye. Barry’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) is more grounded with more than a few difficult moments between the two. There’s little time dedicated to character development here as the film blasts from scene to scene, perhaps to mimic the speed of Barry’s air travel. His colleagues in the flying services he provides don’t have a lot to them and a certain character played by Caleb Landry Jones that shows up to hinder him halfway through doesn’t have much to do other than complaining and getting into trouble. Some of the characters and their relationships could have been developed a bit more to further deepen the plot, especially where the pressure from the authorities is concerned.
Doug Liman’s latest film makes use of a stylised look that blends seamlessly with the time period it’s set in; from the moment the Universal ident morphs into a retro '80s look, you know you’re in for a creative and dynamic production. The handheld camera shots are very close and intimate with only a few traditional mid-shots strewn about the runtime; you feel as if you’re with Barry on these errand jobs, feeling the weight of all these contacts asking him to manage all these different tasks at once. Add to that the real planes used in filming and the always impressive stunt work from Cruise and you have some often-edgy scenes in the air. The sequences that take place in Colombia and Nicaragua are tinted with a hazy yellow, emphasising the roasting heat Barry finds himself in. American Made also goes beyond this with a variety of cross-cuts; real footage, animations, and infographics all used to convey its anchoring into real life events while the soundtrack features a range of period-piece tracks that not only ground the film but show off the extravagant lifestyle Barry ends up creating. The film is superbly shot and edited, meaning you’ll never grow tired of the action. You get the sense there was a real commitment to making American Made stand out from its contemporaries.
American Made is charismatic, clever, and not afraid to barrel along at top speed; its basic characterisation is the only blemish against a wave of frenetic pacing and wonderful cinematography, a killer combo that propels it to become one of the most entertaining films of the year.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars (Brilliant)
About the Creator
I'm a well-travelled blogger and writer from the UK who is looking to spread his blogs and freelance writings further afield. You can find more of my work at https://robc25.wixsite.com/thecainagecritique.