Film review: AMERICAN MADE, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

American Made is the bonkers true story of the man allegedly at the centre of the biggest drug and weapons trafficking operations in the US in the 80’s, TWA pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). According to the film, Seal was busted for importing Cuban cigars into the US by a creepy CIA spook (Domnhall Gleeson) and rather than go to prison, agreed to take aerial reconnaissance photos of communist insurgents in Nicaragua. The ace pilot and his plane soon came to the attention of an up-and-coming Columbian drug cartel which included none other than Pablo Escobar. In a logistics master class the money hungry Seal devised a way of working for the CIA while flying vast quantities of coke into the US for the Medellin cartel. Not surprisingly, this precarious business model eventually landed Seal in serious trouble.

Rather than an outright crim, the perpetually grinning Cruise portrays Seal as a slightly crazed, irresponsible, irrepressible entrepreneur verging on romantic hero who tries to make some extra cash but finds himself in way over his head.   The film depicts Seal as a man seemingly clever and confident enough to play the US government and the cartels allowing him to live the capitalist dream of obscene wealth. Cruise is far more suited to this insouciant anti-hero role than he was as a quirky adventurer in The Mummy but he doesn’t entirely inhabit the role of Seal and we’re aware that we’re watching someone putting on a performance.

While Cruise occupies much of the screen time a couple of other performers manage to make an impression. Domhnall Gleeson, who despite the film’s 80’s setting, looks like a present day hipster, is unnervingly ordinary as the manipulative CIA operative. Particularly memorable, though, is Caleb Landry Jones as Seal’s white trash numbskull brother-in-law who Seal unwisely allows into his operation.

Director Doug Liman, who built his reputation with films like Go, Mr and Mrs Smith and the Bourne Identity treats the material as fodder for a crazed dramedy. The film revels in the insanity of Seal’s predicament at times descending into farce as in one ludicrous sequence in which five different law enforcement agencies arrive, one after another, to arrest Seal and wind up pointing their guns at each other in a scene reminiscent of the newsreader fight in Anchorman.

Liman also delves deeply into the Martin Scorsese playbook with Henry Hill-style voice overs from Cruise, amphetamine driven montages charting the Seal’s criminal ascent into a world of gaudy excess and strategically placed rock tracks including Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing’. Seal’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) even recalls the Margot Robby character from The Wolf of Wall Street. Unfortunately, Doug Liman’s fidgety directorial style doesn’t energise the film the way Scorsese at his best would have.

American Made doesn’t completely work but it’s such a fascinatingly crazy story it will keep most audiences riveted.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Biopic/ Comedy/ Drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Doug Liman.

Release date: 24th Aug 2017.

Running time: 115 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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