Action American Made

'American Made' Blu-ray Review: Tom Cruise goes full-throttle in this breezy biopic

January 2, 2018Ben 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.

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.

From the odd scene of soft-focus photography to an oversaturated color palette that gives the image a greenish-yellow tint, American Made employs some deliberate stylistic choices to give the film a visual look in keeping with its period setting; and while some of it might detract from what is normally associated with high-definition presentations, it all nonetheless comes across spectacularly on Blu-ray. From the plains of Arkansas to the jungles of Colombia, picture quality is vibrant and detail-rich, and it's topped off with a top-flight DTS:X track that fills the room with the sounds of 70s and 80s radio hits, the roar of airplane engines and bursts of machine gun fire.

Universal's two-disc Blu-ray combo pack includes an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Deleted/Extended Scenes (9:56) - Six scenes, playable with or without commentary by director Doug Liman ("JB Goes to Church," "TV Delivery," "Plane Auction," "Barry Crashes into Sheriff's Station," "Schafer in CIA Meeting" and "Phone Wars").
  • American Storytellers (6:39) - The cast and crew talk about what makes the film special and what Tom Cruise and Doug Liman bring to the movie.
  • Cruise & Liman: A Conversation (5:25) - The star and the director discuss the film, from shooting in Colombia to living together during the filmmaking process.
  • In the Wings (6:01) - Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones and Domhnall Gleeson talk about their characters.
  • Shooting American Made (4:16) - A look at filming in Ball Ground, Georgia, as well as in South America.
  • Flying High (4:50) - Cruise and Liman talk about how Cruise's piloting skills came into play for the film.
  • The Real Barry Seal (5:51) - Aaron Seal, Barry Seal's youngest son, shares some of his memories of his father.

American Made is available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment as of January 2nd, 2018. The Blu-ray features English DTS:X and DTS Headphone:X, Spanish and French DTS 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. The total runtime is 1 hr. 55 min.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on September 29th, 2017.

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