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'American Made' Film Review: Bourne on the Fourth of July

September 29, 2017Ben MK

Whether he's scaling the Burj Khalifa or hanging from the outside of an Airbus 400, Tom Cruise is no stranger to danger. However, for his latest role, Cruise plays a man whose real-life exploits were just as daring as any stunt he himself ever committed to film.

In American Made, Cruise re-teams with The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman to play Barry Seal, a talented airline pilot whose career path takes a sudden and dramatic turn, when a CIA operative by the name of Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) approaches him in an airport bar one night in 1978. Noting Barry's penchant for smuggling Cuban cigars, Schafer makes Barry an offer he can't refuse, handing him his very own aviation operation in exchange for his services flying reconnaissance missions over Central America.

As the 1980s roll around, we watch as the nature of Barry's assignments for Schafer becomes much more hands-on, and he goes from merely flying over hostile territory to being the CIA's man on the ground, routinely delivering under-the-counter payments to General Manuel Noriega in exchange for valuable intel, and smuggling Contra fighters into the States for combat training. But it's the allegiances Barry forges along the way — when Uncle Sam isn't looking — that prove the most lucrative, especially the fast friends he makes with Pablo Escobar and the founding members of the Medellin drug cartel, helping them to ferry kilo upon kilo of their product into the U.S.

Needless to say, it all has to catch up with Barry at some point. But much to his surprise — not to mention the chagrin of the numerous State and Federal law enforcement agencies pursuing him — it takes eight long years for that to happen. In the meantime, Barry is allowed to essentially grow his operation unabated, eventually adding a small fleet of planes and a small crew of hand-picked, trusted pilots, and continuing to rake in bag after bag bursting at the seams with cold, hard cash — more than enough to keep his beautiful and supportive wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), and their three young children living comfortably.

It all adds up to Cruise at his charismatic best, and even though the script by screenwriter Gary Spinelli can seem a bit scattershot at times — feeling more like a series of loosely related vignettes rather than a tightly woven narrative — Cruise is always on-point, bringing his multimillion-dollar smile, cooler-than-cool aviator sunglasses and trademark persona to the proceedings. Much like how Barry refers to himself in several scenes as "the guy who delivers," so too can the same be said of Cruise, who consistently delivers a likeable and winning performance as a man equally flummoxed by his own successes as the people around him.

With its light-on-its-feet mix of espionage, humor and action, the result is one part biopic and one part geopolitical history lesson, all wrapped up in a retro aesthetic that utilizes archive news footage, a period-appropriate soundtrack and VHS-quality home video confessionals to tie everything together. Is it a fair assumption to state that American Made substantially fictionalizes the real-life Seal's story, retrofitting it to suit Cruise's strengths as one of Hollywood's longest-running and most bankable actors? Probably so. But if the ultimate goal was to make a starring vehicle for Cruise to shine in, then consider it mission accomplished.

American Made releases September 29th, 2017 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. Its runtime is 1 hr. 55 min.

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