Movie Review: It's hard to buy American Made
Does it count as irony that a film about smuggling appears to have sneaked past me with very little attention?
There's a new Tom Cruise movie out. If that's news to you, it could also be evidence that there is a curse of The Mummy after all.
As much as I like Cruise, the stench from this year's biggest stinker still lingers.
For the most part, American Made is entertaining.
It's loosely based on the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot who ran drugs and arms for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the late 70s/early 80s. (Part of that looseness is that Cruise looks nothing like Seal).
It's Cruise's second collaboration with Doug Liman after 2014's excellent though terribly-named Edge of Tomorrow.
Starting off brilliantly – really, it is the best use of those interminable studio idents – the film makes no secret of its debt to both Goodfellas and Catch Me If You Can.
So many of Liman's films start out well. But after a while, what should be an extraordinary tale of shady CIA dealings loses an engine.
It just hits you. "Are we going anywhere with this?"
It gets repetitive, much like the contraband runs Seal and company go on. Crucially, there's no escalation of tension.
Aside from the annoyance of Caleb Landry Jones' redneck bro-in-law whose self-engrossed semi-comic relief ineptitude could be the catalyst to the entire operation coming down. But you never really feel that he's enough of a threat.
With this film pitched as more of a caper, Cruise is well-suited. It's a serious subject given a veneer of a lark - so his ability to sweatily scramble about with that winning smile is perfect.
But that's also its failing - the larks negate the danger you'd expect with double-crossing South American drug cartels.
Seal may courier drugs, but he does not take them. There are no other women in his life other than his occasionally exasperated wife (played by Wright). He's given something close to Robin Hood status.
Portrayed as so essentially wholesome, it normalises his FBI/ATF/DEA-baiting activity. We should be booing him, but for at least the first half, you want to see how far he can take things.
It's enjoyable, but the story needs a key change, something heavier to give the plot momentum. There is no sense of things going irredeemably wrong until the very end.
Maybe if the excellent Domhnall Gleeson – again showing how much of a chameleon he is – had been a greater part of the story.
So it’s entertaining for a while and it’s fun to see Seal struggle with illicit success, as he has to hide tonnes of unlaundered cash around the house. But there’s not much more to it.
It's a caper that has so much fun with the subject, it's hard to tell what the real parts are.
The compromise in values that makes an essentially clean-living family man flood his country with drugs, or effectively turn a government agency into a crime syndicate should be more than it is here. It's all just glossed over.
You can't help but feel the really true story of Seal deserves a proper telling.
MOVIE: American Made
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Caleb Landry Jones
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
THE SKINNY: Commercial pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) is recruited by the CIA to spy on communist rebels in South America. Under the supervision of his CIA handler (Gleeson), Seal soon gets involved with the cartels, running arms and drugs.
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