I was never bored watching American Made, but all I could ever think of as I was seated down was what this movie would have looked like under the eyes of Martin Scorsese. I feel like Doug Liman was trying to remind his audiences of how much of a blast The Wolf of Wall Street was, by taking a true story and turning it into a breezy adventure. But I’m not entirely sure that Doug Liman completely understands what made said film feel as if it was moving by so fast, because the most I kept thinking of was how much I would much rather be watching The Wolf of Wall Street. It seemed to be the worst recurring thought to have watching American Made because I know already that it isn’t the first film of its sort to be done within this style, and it isn’t made with the same cleverness that made its originators work as well.
Telling the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot who was smuggling drugs on behalf of the Medellín Cartel as part of his own recruitment for the CIA, American Made takes the opportunity to poke at the manner in which government operations were run at the time, with a smile on its own face from Tom Cruise as Barry Seal. But that smile seemed to be all American Made relied on when it came to how it portrayed the subject it has in its own hands, because there was rarely ever a moment of proper insight to back up the film as a piece of satire – thus what it created was only a biopic that seemed to have zero distinction of its very own. Everyone can already see that they’re being told a true story, but in the end there seems to be very little learned that doesn’t come from an ending caption.
I feel it’s difficult enough to talk about how American Made is setting to achieve its goal because despite the occasionally funny moments coming out on behalf of how it portrays its own subject matter it never always seemed most fitting or ever seemed to offer a new perspective about the American war on drugs. By the time the film had reached its end, I was only thinking that it was merely an incomplete statement if anything had been left behind, because oftentimes the film was smirking with its humour without ever having anything more to say beyond it. It seems to be a problem with how Doug Liman is telling the story in front of his own viewer’s eyes, because what’s missing is a sense of communication between the work and the audience on the count that all that is being picked up is the film’s tendency to laugh at government operations without saying much about their manners.
Tom Cruise seems to be having a lot of fun within the role, but I’m only wondering at the same time how long he has been living within the idea that he’s younger than he actually is. Oftentimes, it seemed as if that were all American Made lies comfortably building itself upon, yet rarely did it ever feel nearly as rewarding as it looked. It didn’t seem as if Tom Cruise was playing Barry Seal, a figure whom we were supposed to be learning about from the craziness of his own trials, but he was merely playing Tom Cruise the way we would recognize him: a man whose charisma has stuck with him as he grew older, and even if it may have resulted in some of the film’s funniest moments, it never seemed to create a concrete character in Barry Seal. Was I supposed to hate him for what he was doing on behalf of what he said were “his people,” or was I supposed to be charmed the same way that Tom Cruise’s presence would draw oneself in?
I do think that if American Made deserved any sort of credit, Doug Liman certainly knows how to bring energy into an action sequence – if his involvement with Edge of Tomorrow had indicated proof of such. He brings the same energy to American Made for the flight sequences look enthralling, but at the same time it also goes to show how odd a choice it seems for Doug Liman to direct, because the satire just seems very clunky. Certain moments it makes clear how in your face it wishes to be because of how the American government is seeking a way into the Mendellín Cartel, but it always seemed uncertain who Liman was laughing at. Stylistically, it seems to resemble The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short, and yet without the same cleverness that made both films work as well.
American Made most certainly is an American made movie, I suppose – but at the end of the day it seems like an inconclusive product if anything. It seems to have an idea set in place, but it’s clearly abandoned for the sake of evoking a style that would catch oneself, thus taking away any form of identity American Made could have carried in order to stand out as its own product. But thanks to the charm of Tom Cruise’s performance as well as some genuinely funny moments, American Made is never boring – but at the end of the day, what am I supposed to make of America’s war on drugs? Am I supposed to root for these people, despite the fact everything is shown under a big cover up? Am I supposed to despise them? It’s that sour note that ultimately hinders American Made from ever being what it clearly wants to be.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by Doug Liman
Screenplay by Gary Spinelli
Produced by Brian Grazer, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson, Doug Davison, Kim Roth
Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Lola Kirke, Caleb Landry Jones
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 115 minutes