Let’s get this out there – I’m not really a Tom Cruise fan. My reasons are personal, not professional, which means I can be an adult about this review.
(td,dr: this movie was a lot of fun)
Cruise is Barry Seal and it’s 1978. He’s a TWA pilot who loves to fly but hates the monotony, so he spices it up with some minor cigar smuggling. He’s not as good as he thinks he is, and is approached by the CIA to perform a few light duties. Soon he’s running econnaissance missions and make quick and dirty deliveries with a fancy plane. Before much longer than that, he’s more or less be his own man.
Well, as much of his own man as he can be working for the CIA running drugs to South America and the Medellin Cartel. You have to have a less than healthy respect for your own mortality to pull this off successfully. There is a thrill-seeking edge to Cruise’s portrayal, and even when you know it’s probably going to end badly, the sheer exuberance he brings to the role almost convinces you everything will be okay.
By the early 80’s Barry, is well established (if in constant mortal danger) and while his wife isn’t thrilled by it, the stupid amounts of money make her more than okay. Spying on Nicaragua, drugs from Colombia, guns, and drugs from Honduras, working for the CIA, the DEA and thumbing his nose at the FBI – Barry’s charmed life has a fatalist edge.
Lest you think Barry was merely corrupted by the US government, the real-life Barry Seal wasn’t exactly turned out from humble beginnings. He always had a nose for smuggling, already had a record, so the leap from small-time smuggler to international drug runner was really more of a hop on one foot.
AMERICAN MADE isn’t a one-man show. Domhnall Gleeson plays “Schafer” who is as slimy and sociopath as we all expect CIA agents to be. Caleb Landry Jones plays JB. Seal’s less sophisticated, brother in law whose antics could potentially get everyone killed. Alejandro Edda gives a chilling performance as middleman Jorge Ochoa. Every character feels fleshed out, every adventure has a nail-chewing edge. You can’t help but be caught up in the adventure, even when you know it’s a very bad idea. ,
This movie has Oscar potential, especially for Cruise. It’s a compelling story that’s not too heavy on the drama or light on the laughs. He makes you want to believe all of this is okey dokey and it’s all going to be just fine. Barry is an average American making his way by skirting the law and taking his lumps. It’s not unrealistic, and maybe that’s because it (probably) actually happened. It’s so fantastic, it has to be true.