American Made, directed by Doug Liman, tells an unbelievable story – that’s not hyperbole. The true story in which this film is based upon, will leave you slack-jawed and wide-eyed. In a refreshing departure from his usual bulletproof, all action all the time roles, Tom Cruise helps to deliver a fun, wild adventure that shows that anything is impossible in the United States of America. However, the film might be all flash and nothing meaningful, but let’s explore if that is the case in my review.
Like I said, the film is based upon the real-life antics of Barry Seal – portrayed by Tom Cruise – who quits his mundane job as an airline pilot, to help both the CIA transport money and guns to their allies in South America, while at the same time he also helps Pablo Escobar get his cocaine into the United States. It’s a story full of money, drugs and pretty much anything else illegal you can think of, and at the centre of it all is a wild man named Barry Seal.
One of the things that I felt kept this film on track and feeling more or less like a complete package was its handling of its timeline. American Made spans quite a bit of time (around 7 years) and has much that happens within that time. So I was surprised at how coherent and explorative it was, while never feeling lost or disjointed. It always makes it clear where and when you are, and some handy voiceover from Barry himself, keeps things clear. Usually with films that are based loosely on someone’s life, and spans a number of years, things can get muddled. Also, the large expanse of time can usually result in you disconnecting from the character, as they grow and change but you have very little time to adapt and find your place with them again. In American Made, I felt it did a good job of not letting that happen, or at least not letting that happen to an extent where I lost interest or connection with the film.
And I think the reason the film kept my attention was that it was telling a story that was just so crazy, that I had to see how the larger story played out and what Barry’s part was in it all. Both writer, Gary Spinelli and director, Doug Liman kept the delivery of the madness at an easy to digest pace. When the larger, more wild things in Barry’s life where happening, the film would let the craziness fly; fast paced, with music that would complement it, and an overall momentum that helped communicate the speed and the fun of everything that Barry found himself in. But back home, when Barry was with his family, the film would slow down and take its time, which resembled the speed and excitement of his home-life.
Both of these strategies conditioned the audience to a certain way of digesting the film. When Barry’s out working, expect to take in a lot, fast. When he’s home, feel free to relax and take your time with understanding his home life. Later, when things in Barry’s life would begin to unravel, those structures were taken away from you, which in turn would offer a different way of taking in the film. What it all results in is a film that both has fun with you but also looks after you; never feeling left out or lost. You’re simply being left to enjoy the ride.
Beyond what film offered narratively, it for me, was really nice to see Tom Cruise take on a roll that didn’t involve him bouncing around the globe, hunting for a McGuffin, while dispensing with hordes of henchmen, which seems to be the majority of the films he does these days. American Made is a nice step back from all that. Barry Seals is a character, a larger than life character who Tom Cruise does a great job of being. The role didn’t require much of Cruise; he’s not chewing up the scene with a performance that is worthy of mounds of praise, but it’s still a nice deviation from his more recent roles and I enjoyed my time watching him.
What I would have liked some more time with in the film, was Barry Seal’s family. I pointed out a moment ago that the film does a good job of balancing out Barry Seal’s story. But for me, there wasn’t enough time and exploration spent with his family. The film felt like it was missing that emotional connection. Other than Barry’s wife, Lucy Seal – portrayed by Sarah Wright – we know nothing about the intricacies of his home life. His children are background dressing and we know nothing at all about his extended family. Perhaps I’m asking too much, but I feel that the film needed more of them, to help ground the film a little.
Barry is a part of, and we the audience are witness to, some truly insane stuff and it isn’t just one or two things, it’s multiple moments where you have to laugh at the madness of it all. Now that’s really fun to watch but the problem is that after a while you become desensitised to it all. Soon, what you see Barry doing becomes normality to you. It’s here that I think the film could have done with re-instilling some normality into the film; giving you a real feeling emotional connection into the film again, and the way in which it could have done that is with Barry’s family and how it was affecting them.
We see all the fun that he has, and subsequently the lavish lifestyle that he and his family get to live, but we never really get to know or understand what it’s all doing to his wife and their children? What life is like for them when Barry’s gone; what people think of them etc. The film didn’t even need to go that deep with it, just something to give us a connection back to reality, or whatever reality might have been for the Seal family.
But that’s just me and my over-demanding needs, I suppose. I still had a blast watching this film. I sat there in disbelief, laughing along with everyone else in the audience, and by the end was left in awe of what had taken place during the latter half of the 70’s and the beginning of the 80’s, and the film certainly capitalised on that time in America with an overall style that was very fitting for a film set during that time; the music, the culture and the changing political focuses. America in those days was still very much the wild west, that’s for sure.
I’m going to recommend American Made. My issues with it, while nagging for me, are probably trivial or even non-existent for others. I, in the end, still had fun watching this film and found it to be a nice, easy watch.
I’m really interested to know what you thought of my review, and also the film. So please leave any feedback, opinions etc. in the comments down below. I would really appreciate it if you would give my blog a follow and also my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it might help to grow awareness for them both. If not that’s fine, I’ll simply leave you with a thank you and the hope that you have a great day.