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Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 09:52 am

Cruise Makes American Made Soar

A couple of years ago, an article appeared that claimed that there were no more movies stars.  The contention was that putting any actor or actress’ name above the title didn’t sell tickets anymore, but that franchises and pop culture roles, superheroes in particular, were the real draw.  The author felt that it didn’t matter if Robert Downey Jr. was in the Iron Man suit or not, as long as the character was on screen and saved the day, butts would be in seats.

Obviously, Tom Cruise didn’t see this article.

Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) finds himself in over his head with CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) in American Made

Courtesy Universal Pictures

No one works harder than he does when it comes to pleasing his fans or putting a quality product on the screen. And while all of his movies might not be successful, Cruise can’t be blamed for lack of trying and no matter what, his boyish charisma shines through.

Case in point, Doug Liman’s fact-based film American Made, an entertaining affair that Cruise puts on his shoulders and carries across the finish line. It’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to bring the movie’s subject, Barry Seal to life.  A guy with modest dreams and a normal family, he ended up being involved with so many different nefarious affairs, were his life presented as a work of fiction, you wouldn’t believe it.  No, this is a stranger than fiction tale and though it may sound familiar it still proves compelling.

Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is tempted by a sweet ride in American Made.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

Living in Baton Rouge in the late 1970’s, Seal is an overworked pilot for TWA with simple needs. He just wants to drive around in his hot rod on his days off and spend time with his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and their kids.  However, his every-once-in-a-while practice of smuggling Cuban cigars into the country catches the eye of CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who recruits him for some undercover work.  All he has to do is take the occasional flight over Russian encampments in Guatemala and Honduras, take some pictures of what’s going on and get back to headquarters.  The money is good, the adrenaline high is nice and besides, he’s helping democracy.  What could go wrong?

Well, of course, it all does, albeit in spectacular fashion. As Seal’s saga unfolds from 1978 – 1986, he becomes involved with smuggling drugs for the Medellin Cartel, delivering arms to the Contras, bringing Central Americans to America to train as rebels, and winds up literally making more money than he knows what to do with.  

While the screenplay by Gary Spinelli leaves out some key events (Seal’s six-month stint in a Honduran jail) and plays with the timeline a bit, this proves to be a compelling story that proves fascinating no matter how many times we’ve heard it.  (The correlations between Breaking Bad, The Infiltrator are inescapable.) Credit Liman for creating an irreverent tone that misleads the audience into thinking for most of the film’s running time that this is all a good-natured romp. This approach casts Seal as something of a folk hero, a questionable tactic, yet makes the brutal climax all the more effective.  

The law finally catches up with Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) in American Made.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

Wright is very good and deserves more screen time, while Gleeson finds just the right approach for his duplicitous agent who’s not nearly as charming as he thinks.  But make no mistake, this is Cruise’s show and he delivers one of his best performances in recent memory.  While Seal had his share of adventures, he never found himself dangling off a building or hanging on to the outside of an airplane for dear life, all of which means the actor is forced to be still for much of the time.  Cruise reminds us what a good actor he is as he’s required interact with his cast mates in a more meaningful manner and create and mold a character over a period of time. The result is a larger-than-life character that fails to realize how far in over his head he was, one Cruise brings vividly to life.  Yeah, his 1,000-watt grin reminds us he’s a movie star, but American Made reinstates him as one of our finest screen actors. 

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