American Made sees Tom Cruise playing real life CIA operative, Cuban contraband smuggler and family man Barry Seal. An opportunist and everyman who took the chances thrown his way and made hay while that sun shone.
Doug Liman always pitches a curveball. Picks a subject matter, method of approach and interpretation which continues making him not only relevant but contemporary. From the underrated Go through Jumper onto Bourne Identity and beyond, Liman re-energises jaded genres, kick starts franchises then moves on. In his latest collaboration with Tom Cruise we get more of the same, except this time round Liman throws in a little bit of politics.
American Made sees Cruise playing real life CIA operative, Cuban contraband smuggler and family man Barry Seal. An opportunist and everyman who took the chances thrown his way and made hay while that sun shone. Featuring some razor sharp writing from Gary Spinelli it contains much of Liman’s trademark indie style, jumping between handheld, steady cam, VHS camcorder and stock footage seamlessly. Liman draws the most spontaneous performance from Cruise for some time, while our leading man is clearly having great fun adding another maverick to his back catalogue.
Whether working with Domhnall Gleeson’s CIA agent Schafer or buddying up with Cuban dictator Pablo Escobar, Seal is in his element. He has a risk taking swagger which exudes likeability while his circumstances would be pure fiction if not for the evidence. Liman employs news footage and moments of dramatic licence to illustrate how underhandedly crooked agendas became with Barry firmly figuring in the whole equation. Morality, ethics and a sense of justice are all secondary to vested interests south of the American border.
That Liman and Cruise are able to give this substance relies heavily on the counterpoint of Seal’s family versus an ever escalating percentage of risk to return ratio. These stakes are getting higher and an ability to balance tone without drifting into either darkness, caricature or disinterest is a trick cleverly accomplished. Their interpretation of the CIA is also quite fresh and freewheeling as levity and humour play as much of a role here as anything else. Reminiscent in part to the nineties buddy team up of Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. in Air America, this time round Tom Cruise and Sarah Wright as husband and wife carry proceedings.
Played out over six years during the Reagan presidency, Iran Contra scandal and Oliver North debacle, American Made uses Lucy and Barry as barometers for cultural change. Clothing, technology, lifestyle and politics are constantly in flux and this family sit at the eye of that storm. Liman and Cruise have achieved much in giving us both something seamlessly mainstream yet dramatically meaty without preaching, spoon feeding or diluting down the point. An essential addition and gentle reminder that brand Tom Cruise isn’t just a Mission Impossible franchise.