By John Messer

Tom Cruise adorns the "American Made" poster.

Even the poster illustrates Cruise’s manic character, complete with a messy shirt, loose bills and a fast plane in the background. (Source: FanFest)


I have a bad habit of getting excited over movie trailers, and this habit persisted with American Made’s trailer some few months ago.

I recall waiting for “Baby Driver” to start, seeing “American Made” in trailer form, and being excited. Tom Cruise excels as an in-over-his-head character, which is exemplified in “Risky Business” and “Edge of Tomorrow”. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, and stories of disastrous falls from success like “Goodfellas” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” are common hits. “American Made” seemed poised to tickle these fancies. So does it?

“American Made”, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Doug Liman, is an adaptation of the real-life story of Barry Seal, a Trans World Airlines pilot who became a CIA-contracted flier and later began smuggling drugs for the Medellin cartel.

Liman has a history with Cruise, directing him in “Edge of Tomorrow”. He also has directing credits on films like “Mr and Mrs Smith” and “The Bourne Identity”. It might seem then that Liman’s action film experience could clash with a historical fiction piece, but in actuality, it works well to keep a fast pace on what otherwise might be a story that drags on.

The film follows Seal’s gradual transition to a millionaire drug mule who keeps immunity through his work for the CIA. A similar kind of movie would bog down this premise with regular reviews of his home life. “American Made” knows that these scenes are necessary for a fleshed out narrative, but they do not need to be drawn out. All of the non-drug or CIA-related scenes are kept brief and to the point, and this is a good thing. The draw of the movie is a retelling of a historically significant and exciting string of events; why waste time on anything else?

Nothing in the movie is particularly shocking or jump out of your seat action, but none of it is boring either. It really is a movie about the story itself and is less about character, setting or themes. It’s an interesting historical setup and a compelling life story to follow, and so everything else in the movie has to facilitate that in order for it to be a success. The movie does so, and therefore, it works.


The only thing that bothers me is the ending. It follows the true ending of Barry Seal’s life, which was an unceremonious murder in a parking lot. A better approach for the movie would have been to find a more climactic ending elsewhere, and then allude to his demise in the “where are they now” scene that most historical fiction films possess. This type of approach would have been more cinematic, which is an important trait for a movie to have! This movie’s actual bending is abrupt and much more anticlimactic.

As always, I avoid rating a film’s quality numerically, as I find the concept to be too nuanced for that. As for personal enjoyment, I give “American Made” a 6/10. I certainly enjoy any historical drama as long as it’s remotely well made, and Liman certainly excels at pulling manic performances out of Tom Cruise. He also manages to explain a complex set of circumstances in a fairly understandable way for the audience. The resulting film is less like “Narcos” and more like “Goodfellas”. Combined with Cruise’s eccentric character and some plane-based thrills, I would definitely recommend this movie.

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