‘American Made’ Review: Tom Cruise is in peak form in this messy, but dynamic biopic

Whenever Tom Cruise shows up in a movie, it’s hard to see anyone other than Tom Cruise. And yet, one of the few true movie stars finds a way to adapt his own persona to so many different films. His most recent, American Made, is a hell of a joy ride mainly because of him. Playing Barry Seal, a drug smuggler who ends up working for a CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) and Pablo Escobar, Cruise, sporting a Southern accent, is magnetic, a presence with gravity, one that drives the energy of each scene.

But director Doug Liman and crew pull more than just their weight. Shooting in extreme documentary style, and including recreations of tapes of Seal speaking directly to a camera, Liman emphasizes the reality of the story despite its crazy events. The editing echoes that tone and effect, zipping along as quick and sharp as Seal’s airplanes, bursting with bags of cocaine. And when the acting and scene composition are at their finest, American Made is deliciously dynamic, buzzing with tangible adrenaline. During those same moments, the film also proves to be a searing dissection of the political corruption taking place on both American soil and below the border. The trio of actors who portray the heads of the Medellín Cartel help create some hilarious yet subtly unnerving scenes, and Domhnall Gleeson shows why he’s one of the finest actors working today, matching Cruise’s intensity as a blunt personality foil.

There’s no denying that American Made is a great time at the movies, but it still struggles at points. Oftentimes, the film seems like a collection of moments more so than a unified story. It’s biographical, so it’s awarded the leniency that the genre permits, but even then, it becomes hard to see exactly where the film is going and what it wants to say in the larger picture, whether it be about Seal or the politics behind his operations. Thus, the pacing suffers in the first act as we bounce around from year to year and place to place without a goal firmly set. American Made ends up feeling as reckless as Seal is, and sometimes that’s a good thing, but it never necessarily seems like the point.

And can we stop casting married couples where the man is 20 years older than the woman? Even Tom Cruise is not entirely worth that practice.

Grade: C+


Featured image via Universal Pictures.

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