America Giveth and America Taketh Away
After The Mummy earlier this year, Tom Cruise needed a win in order to put that tragedy far in the rearview mirror. Luckily for him, American Made came to the rescue. I’ll admit that I really wasn’t looking forward to the movie, if only because I’m getting over the whole love affair that Hollywood seems to have with Tom Cruise. However, the film proved to be quite a pleasant surprise and one that I can see being shown in high school history classes when teachers need a break.
American Made takes an almost documentary approach to its storytelling. Splicing in bits of newsreel and narrative from Tom Cruise as he recalls everything that happened to him. It’s an interesting technique that adds an air of legitimacy of the film, especially because it is based on the true story of pilot Barry Seal who ended up working for both the CIA and the Median Cartel in the 80’s. It’s certainly an interesting tale and sheds a lot of light on the whole Iran-Contra affair, though most of the movie takes place before Iran got involved.
What I found most interesting about the movie is that it really shows just what a complete mess America was in the 80’s, especially under the guidance of the ‘Old Gipper.’ It’s a hell of a metaphor for the American dream, as a man finds himself chasing after glory and money before flying too close to the sun. Best of all, it’s this great country that puts him on the path to his epic downfall. Building him up and pushing him forward before hanging him out to dry. Honestly, I can’t think of a more appropriate film considering the current state of the good old U.S. of A.
The thing is thought that it’s hard to feel bad for Barry. Tom Cruise milks his shit eating grin for all it’s worth to give Barry a used car salesman kind of charm. While there’s no doubt that he wasn’t a brilliant smuggler, it’s also not hard to argue that he wasn’t the brightest guy in the world. Though I will admit that Tom Cruise does a pretty damn good job playing both sides of that role. I might not consider him one of the great actors of our generation, but he is definitely a solid lead and Hollywood knows just how bankable he is.
The films real downfall is that Doug Liman doubles down on that bankability to the point where every other character is simply more set dressing. If you asked me now to give you the names of any of the other characters, I would just have to go with the ones I remember from history class. There’s really no development for any of them, simply appearing to give Tom what he needs to move forward and flash that shit eating grin once again. Although I will say that I did like Domhnall Gleeson, that might just because I’m such a huge supporter of ginger representation in film. Though it does also feature Caleb Landry Jones in a cameo just to round out ginger quota.
Liman makes up for his lack of interest in other characters by tailoring the film to Seal. He embraces a fast and loose style that still manages to maintain control over the story and the audience’s attention. It gives American Made a very fun vibe from the onset and a certain amount of charm that ensures its watchability overall. I will say this, Liman’s film making does not miss a step.
A lot of the pieces felt right in American Made. It definitely had its issues, but more than anything it felt like an honest movie. I’ll stick with what I said earlier about the historical significance of it as well, and because of that, it’s easy to recommend it. After all, before you blindly support our country on principle alone, you should see some of the stupid things it’s done over the years, and trust me, this is one of the stupidest.
Then again, maybe that’s why the name is so appropriate. After all, Barry’s fate and the whole Contra fiasco was exactly that.