AMERICAN MADE Review: 8 out of 10 (Cruising Altitude)
AMERICAN MADE is a new action biopic directed by Doug Liman and stars Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, and Jesse Plemons. The plot focuses on Barry Seal (Cruise), a former commercial pilot who was recruited by the CIA to fly recon missions and later became a drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel in the 1980s. Gleeson plays "Schafer" who is Seal's recruit and contact to the US goverment and its connections to Noriega in Panama, the rising drug trade from Columbia, and the gun deals to the Contras. Oh the Reagan era.
What works so well about AMERICAN MADE is something you would likely least expect. Tom Cruise is very non-Cruise like, which makes this movie feel more plausible, comical, and bold when necessary. Nearly every character Cruise plays is clever, witty, suave, sexy, and intelligent. Here--he is none of those things. Barry Seal is not the smartest guy ever...in fact he is a sort of redneck schlub. But he is ballsy. Not many people would attempt to fly under the radar of so many state and local police, DEA, and the border patrol while running guns and smuggling cocaine. Seal does it all at a breakneck pace--and collecting cash by the piles. He buys a Cadillac for his wife, hires even more crazy pilots to do his bidding, and stacks his cash in suitcases or buries it in the back yard. It seems clear that everyone around Seal is smarter than he is, but he continues to succeed because of his sheer will. Also a lot of luck.
For those interested in this era by way of a Netflix series like NARCOS or the other crush of media culture references to the Medellin drug dynasty, this offers an alternative look at this part of the 80s. And for Cruise, it sits as a sort of reversal of so much of the 80s action 'Merica movies that he was a part of. The film certainly plays it fast and loose with history. No doubt there are several things here that have been dramatized and romanticized. But there is enough grit, adrenaline, and unexpected humor to lift AMERICAN MADE off the runway.