In recent memory, our experiences of Tom Cruise on the silver screen have consisted of him running around pretending to be 25 again, shirt off, weapon in hand, solving missions (even those you could deem impossible). So needless to say it’s refreshing to see the talented actor return to a more character driven piece, playing Barry Seal in Doug Liman’s unashamedly entertaining drama American Made.
Set in the 1980s, Seal is a talented pilot, wasted at a mainstream domestic airline. His talents are spotted by Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) of the CIA who wishes to employ Seal and have him fly low across South American nations, taking covert pictures to send back to the States. With his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and children to support back home, he decides to take the role on, though it seems with this pilot, his greed knows no bounds, and he’s eventually approached by Pablo Escobar, who asks if he can use his special access to take cocaine back Stateside, for a healthy financial reward. Naturally he obliges, and takes on this double life – working for both the CIA and the world’s most notorious drug lord – knowing fully well that if either find out about the other, he’ll be in deep trouble.
Liman has crafted this narrative in a creative fashion, presenting an unconventional means of storytelling which takes risks along the way. Most notably is the frenetic editing, and the use of a handheld camera, which maintains the pace of the film and matches the haphazard nature of the storyline, which at times is quite hard to believe. This is emblematic of a filmmaker who is so difficult to tie down, never making two movies that are the same, each so different from the last, tonally, visually and narratively. The man who once brought us Swingers, and more recently Edge of Tomorrow, is commendable for always maintaining his indie sensibilities that saw the former garner such a cult following, no matter how big in scope the project is he is undertaking.
On a more negative note, perhaps a little more back story would be beneficial, for we get into the crux of the narrative before we’ve even truly began, perhaps not quite understanding by this point who the character Barry Seal is, and what we’re dealing with. Getting more of a sense of his greed and his lust for power would come in handy when he later draws on those particular traits. Though having said that, so much happens in this complex tale that something had to be cut out – and it’s hard to think of anything else that could go.
It’s a shame that the character of Lucy is underdeveloped and not quite paid enough attention to by Liman either, as her story is also a fascinating one that we regrettably move away from – but it doesn’t take too much away from a film that offers such a pure, unadulterated sense of entertainment, in no way committing to the notion of realism, and proving you don’t always need to – as an overtly cinematic endeavour that is a ride from start to finish.
American Made is released on August 25th.