Last Friday, American Made hit theaters. The film was directed by Doug Liman, who’s previous work includes hits such as Swingers, The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and features Tom Cruise in the midst of the Iran-Contra conflict of the 1980s.
This is the second time Liman and Cruise have worked together. In 2014, they collaborated to create the best Tom Cruise Movie of the past 10 years: Edge of Tomorrow. But American Made fails to live up to the expectations set by the duo’s last project.
Essentially, I would have enjoyed American Made more if I had never seen a movie before.
Cruise stars as Barry Seal, a bored TWA pilot who gets recruited by a mysterious CIA agent, Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), to fly a small plane over Sandinista bases in Central and South America and snap some photographs. Before long, he is smuggling cocaine and guns for the Medellin drug cartel and occasionally drops off secret packages for Manuel Noriega, the US-supported military leader in Panama. Based on a true story, screenwriter Gary Spinelli turns Seal’s life into a Forrest Gump-ian tale.
Forrest Gump was blatant capitalist propaganda — a film where an average man who does as he’s told and ends up becoming a millionaire, while his wife protests the status quo only to die of AIDS. On the other hand, American Made has a much darker, satirical view of the United States.
However, the movie isn’t as cutting as it thinks it is. If you squint, you can easily see what Liman thinks he made: The Big Short crossed with Goodfellas. He relies on Martin Scorsese’s self-conscious voiceovers and a plot built on a succession of swelling missions until Seal realizes, too late, that he’s in too deep.
Adding to this, Liman desperately tries to make this a farcical satire — he’s trying to be Adam McKay. But he ends up being Todd Phillips. This isn’t The Big Short, this is War Dogs. And that’s sad because War Dogs is a bad movie and not funny at all. American Made, at least, will make the audience chuckle. But it will also make them throw up.
This movie is nauseatingly awful to look at, as Liman attempts to make the comedy stretch into the filmmaking. This would have been a good idea if he was a seasoned director of comedies, but it’s apparent he’s not. He is Doug Liman, director of Jason Bourne and Tom Cruise action blockbusters — neither of which are known for their comedic punchlines.
Furthermore, Liman shoots the movie in a pseudo-documentary panache that has the handheld camera constantly shaking and making the picture fuzzy. This fuzziness, however, can’t hide Cruise’s age, which is noticeable for perhaps the first time, ever. What makes this particularly depressing is that Cruise is basically playing a grimier version of Maverick from Top Gun. He’s wearing the same aviators and white pilot uniform from his signature character, he’s just older.
This doesn’t mean Cruise’s performance isn’t wonderful. He maintains his crown as the most charming movie star in Hollywood, and this film showcases his charisma. As Barry Seal, Cruise is operating within the same wheelhouse he’s been working in since War of the Worlds in 2005. He’s been working in films that show how likable he is — and he’s mastered the form.
Liman brings out the best in the actor. In Edge of Tomorrow, he put Cruise in a vulnerable situation where he gets repeatedly slaughtered via the action movie, the same genre of film that has made him the world’s greatest movie star. Edge of Tomorrow allowed Cruise’s character to fail and American Made basically follows the same formula. Liman obviously has a fetish for roughing up the immaculate image Cruise has made for himself. In the film, Cruise finds himself covered in cocaine, riding a kid’s bike and without a tooth. You can tell Cruise is loving every second of it.
As is the audience. Cruise makes the movie a fun experience, but it’s still a generic satire. American Made doesn’t say anything new or different about the Iran-Contra debacle. Maybe if Liman developed an original style, instead of ripping off other directors’ techniques, his film would stand out. Until then, this is just another Tom Cruise Movie.
Contact CU Independent Arts Writer Joseph Mason at Joseph.Mason@colorado.edu