Film Review: American Made (2017)

2017 in Cinema:

American Made, 2017

Directed by: Doug Liman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson


Based on the true life of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise, The Mummy), a former TWA pilot who became a drug smuggler in the 1980’s, before being recruited by several organisations (DEA, CIA, Colombians) to perform whatever was needed (smuggle drugs, people, weapons, take pictures of enemy bases). The whole film is told to us by Seal on a future date through a video camera, each taking us back to a major point in his life, leading up to him moving to Mena, where he set up a front company to allow for all of his money making.

The film is very comedic, and sets this tone above all else throughout and it works very well. Cruise, who isn’t my favourite actor in the world, puts in a performance which far eclipses that of The Mummy (is it possible to get any worse?), and I personally think he works better with more of a plot-based film rather than being a glorified stunt man (which they prioritised in The Mummy over any plot what-so-ever). This film follows a nice path, with small time smuggling making a few thousand dollars leading right up until the point where they literally have money hidden in every corner and crevice, bags stuffed floor to ceiling full of bills. It becomes a focal point of the comedy and the emotional scenes and it works in both.

One interesting point to make about the casting decisions, though, is that Tom Cruise is 55, despite the real Barry Seal dying at 46, and his on-screen wife is 33. During The Mummy he has a relationship was with the terrible Annabelle Wallis (‘terrible’ may be unfair, but her performances in The Mummy and Annabelle warrants that) who is only 32. I know he doesn’t necessarily look like a man in his mid-50’s but still.

I really wanted to award this film a higher score on its presentation, as it did a great job with making the film look and feel as if it was in the 1980’s. There’s also many scenes of cartoons which fit perfectly with the tone, but there were some bad aspects, too. For one the cameraman could never decide if he was going to be steady or shaky. I’ve spoken of my disliking of the way films such as Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Detroit were filmed, as the camera shakes so much it becomes distracting, and in American Made there are so many scenes with a steady camera which then transition into a shaky one, for no reason. It’s not a chase scene, or anything that requires a moving cameraman, but it shakes, and when it’s switching back-and-forth it can become tiresome. There’s also a few times where random montages are inserted (the first shows Barry and his wife having sex in a variety of places, and the next scene she has a baby). Simply having the baby will allow us to piece the dots together without the strange fast-paced montage from out of nowhere.

All that being said, American Made was actually a pretty decent film. It had its comedy elements (which would be funnier if you didn’t watch the trailer beforehand, as the trailer spoiled most of the decent jokes), mixed in with a decent and well-paced plot. A couple of niggling errors (such as the weird camera movements) and the lack of a strong female lead (Lucy (Sarah Wright), Barry’s wife, simply goes along with everything Barry says and never really gets a say (and when she does demand kitchen utilities he simply throws money at her, yet another poor female lead in a Tom Cruise movie)) do deter this film from being anything more impressive, but it’s still a fun watch.


Plot: * * *     Acting: * * *     Writing: * * *     Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * *

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