American Made, B+
Rated R, 115 minutes
“American Made” is an enjoyably gritty, fun drug smuggling dramedy and true story of a notorious drug smuggler and later informant named Barry Seal in the 1980’s. A free-wheeling, romanticized version of Seal’s life, it stars “Mission: Impossible” star Tom Cruise in fine form as Seal, and even if you don’t count yourself among his fan base (including myself), admittedly this finds Cruise at his most appealing and why he’s been a huge star for many years now.
Barry Seal (Cruise), a TWA pilot, is recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America and soon finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States. The operation spawns the birth of the Medellin Cartel and almost brings down the Reagan White House.
“American Made” is directed by Doug Liman, who worked with Cruise on the energetic sci-fi flick “Edge of Tomorrow,” and he brings the same sense of edgy, fast-moving charm and humor here as well, bringing to life Gary Spinnelli’s script, with many alterations to Seal’s story for cinematic purposes, with some colorful characters and situations. Leading the charge is Cruise as anti-hero Seal, who stockpiled suitcases full of cash and supposedly made and spent a lot of that cash to live luxuriously with his wife (played with hillbilly sensibility by “This is Us’” Sarah Wright) in Arkansas, where he was stationed for many years.
“American Made” is edgier type of character-driven dramedy that Cruise should focus on as he ages, and drift away from the bigger-budgeted action epics that he’s relied on for years now, a telling reminder of what Danny Glover’s character would say in the “Lethal Weapon” films, “I’m getting too old for this s—t.” With Liman’s tight direction, Spinnelli’s focused script and a colorful cast of characters, “American Made” comes up mostly a winner, even if the actual Seal did not in the end.
Among the large cast of colorful characters, watch for Domnhall Gleeson (seen most recently in “mother!”) as the CIA agent who gives Seal his orders, “X-Men’s” Caleb Landry Jones as Seal white trash brother-in-law, who causes considerable trouble for Seal, and briefly, Jayma Mays, as a prosecutor who tries to bring down Seal. “American Made,” even with all its charm, has an appealing sense of predictability, especially if you’re familiar with Seal’s story, playing to the notion to enjoy the moment, because it won’t last forever-type of sensibility, and time certainly did run out Seal, and in a bad way.
It’s nothing new, but “American Made” is still a solid outing for both Cruise and Liman, a satisfying, gritty true story crime tale.