American Made and movies like it are the reason why I love going to the movies. Nothing brings me more joy than going to see a film I’m expecting to be mediocre and leaving with one of the most entertaining film experiences of the year. Because let me tell you, American Made had me gasping for breath by the time it was over.
“You’ve hit the trifecta: Drugs, Guns, and Money Laundering.” This line is delivered to our main character in the second half of the film. While it might be a line written to one day be cut into a trailer or an amateur movie review, it is only a taste of the pure adrenalized lunacy found within the scenes of this picture. This positively audacious true story takes us through an absurd saga of government corruption in the 1980’s, walking, or rather, running us through early drug cartels, globalized communism, the Iran-Contra Deal, and the countless attempts on the part of the United States government to cover it all up. The constant throughout all of these scandals and sensations is our main character: Barry Seal, portrayed in a return to form by Tom Cruise. Honestly, if you were to try to tell me this was actually a biopic on the true story of Tom Cruise himself, I might be inclined to believe you. It’s just that insane. It’s a perfect fit for Mr. Cruise, as his uniquely cultivated blend of manic determination and histrionic charm meshed perfectly with this project. But really, I’m not giving him enough credit. As he is oft-criticized for just “being himself” onscreen, when in fact this is by far his best role in years. He has hit us full force with that charisma that put him on the map in the first place. While watching American Made, I’m thinking more of A Few Good Men than I am Oblivion, for instance. He’s not the only performance of note, however. Domhnall Gleeson brings a grounded realism as the CIA director that is absolutely necessary to keep this narrative on track. Even the ancillary roles deliver, with both Sarah Wright giving a punchy performance as Seal’s wife and the bizarrely electrifying Caleb Landry Jones as her idiotic brother, help to elevate this film above your typical pre-award season fare.
What makes this movie shine when compared to other more traditional True Story films has to be the director’s chair. Doug Liman brought a positively inspired eye to this material that captivated my attention from beginning to end. Right from the opening credits, it is clear that this movie has style. It’s not just going to tell this story the way you would if you were giving a B+ oral report. No, it’s going to tell this story in a way that is guaranteed to get those ten extra creativity points. This film is imbued with this wonderful, just absolutely frenetic editing that propels this narrative forward as if the very camera itself had snorted a line of cocaine. The movie is paced absolutely perfectly, keeping your interest until the very end and if you’re like me-long after. It does take a minute or two at the beginning, but once you realize the ride you’re on, you want nothing else but to get off.
A common cliche in film criticism is “it’s a movie people will be talking about for years,” and you know what? It’s true. You will be talking about this film for a long time, purely because of the talent put forth by the filmmakers. They managed to take incendiary source material and do it justice and then some by delivering it in a wildly provocative manner that could not be accomplished by simply making a documentary. It almost feels like you took The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, and In The Loop and shoved them all together to create a final product that somehow works. And while at moments it kind of comes across as a sixty minutes interview adapted into a graphic novel, it’s just too darn entertaining to really gripe about it. I must say, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had in the movie theater this year. It was a genuine surprise and one that demands your attention. So do yourself a favor, and go see it. You won’t be disappointed.
All images are from American Made, a film by Universal Studios