If there is anything worthwhile left to be said about Tom Cruise, it would have to be how how consistent he has been, at the very least, of making his performance one of the more entertaining aspects of any film he is apart of. At 55 he has not lost the charm that made America fall in love with him back in the 80’s. In American Made he plays a man of that era and adds a mostly okay southern drawl to that charm as well to the endless energy he emits during each scene to deliver one of his best performances since Collateral.
Based on a true story, Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who has relented to being a clock in, clock out worker. Seal’s only enjoyment from his job comes from taking over the controls of his aircraft and manufacturing his own turbulence for a laugh. Oh, and the fact that he is smuggling Cuban cigars into the states through Canadian airports, a side gig that the CIA catches onto pretty quickly. But rather than busting Seal, the CIA’s contact Schafer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) wants to use Barry’s piloting skills to run reconnaissance missions over Central American countries. This is exactly the type of career excitement injection that Seal has been looking for and he agrees. But as Seal says through some reflective narration recordings, “things only get crazier from here.” Reconnaissance leads to money drops for informants, which itself leads to a connection with the Medellin cartel, of which included the likes of Pablo Escobar. With his experience smuggling cigars, Seal agrees to begin smuggling cocaine into the US for the cartel. As the film moves along, each party that Barry is providing a service for begins to expect more and more from his trips to Central America.
What American Made struggles to balance in the film is the risk and reward aspect of Seal’s endeavors. These are big players that he is working for, players that will not hesitate to drop their support or kill him if he fails to deliver. The audience never gets a good look at how Barry is handling the escalating stress of his situation. The majority of the film we see him enjoying all the money that is coming in and how he has chosen to benefit his family with his new found income. The audience is never presented with an opportunity to feel stressed or even frightened for Seal’s safety.
It is easy to see that this was a conscious choice by Director Doug Liman and his editor who have crafted this story to run at breakneck speed. While we lose a larger portion of the pure human element, the pace hits the beats of Barry’s story without making them feel rushed. We get just the right amount of Seal’s experience with the CIA, the Cartels, and other organizations that provide a slight surprise late in the film.
Unsurprisingly, what keeps the film from succumbing to its pace and tying everything together is Tom Cruise. Outside of Cruise and perhaps Gleeson, this is not a star studded cast, and Cruise’s presence elevates everyone around him just enough to make everything feel believable. This film won’t win Cruise an Oscar (nor, frankly, does it have to), but its a role that the actorbit his teeth into which is something he hasn’t done for over a decade and that alone is worthy of the price of admission.