Originally titled Mena, American Made was held from its January release date and pushed to late September with the hopes of performing better than Amityville: The Awakening and Underworld: Blood Wars at the U.S. box office. Universal Pictures re-titled the film that starred Tom Cruise for more broad appeal and instantly gain some “satire” points with the word “American” in its title. Although American Made was re-packaged as something more exciting and daring, I can’t help but feel that the movie would be more compelling and fun if it just took more risks as its subject matter.
American Made follows the whirlwind life of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a man from Louisiana who becomes bored with his humdrum life as a commercial airline pilot during the late 70s and early 80s. To break the monotony of his everyday life, he takes a job smuggling cigars from Cuba into the United States via Canadian airports. This action catches the eye of Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), a C.I.A. agent who recruits Barry Seal to take spy photos over Central American countries for the U.S. Government.
These events spiral out of control into more seedy elements, such as running guns to the Contras to fight Communism and smuggling cocaine into the U.S. for the Medellin Cartel, headed by the infamous Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Mejia). Barry Seal must now balance his life working for the C.I.A. and an International drug cartel, while maintaining his nuclear family life in the South.
The movie is well structured and paced. Director Doug Liman (Swingers, Edge of Tomorrow) does a great job keeping an audience invested in the story and characters, but I couldn’t help but feel that American Made, considering its bizarre subject matter, an everyday man getting caught up in a crazy and unbelievable situation, could’ve made a deeper impression if it had more style to it. As it is, the film is serviceable, but ultimately forgettable, despite the nature of its story.
Often times, it feels like the movie is trying to reach high heights with playful title cards and fast-paced cutting in flashbacks but they seem like afterthoughts and window dressing, akin to eating a plain ham sandwich on a fancy blue plate. It might satisfy your hunger, but the fancy blue plate does nothing for you to remember the experience.
It’s also worth noting that Tom Cruise, who never phones it in and is always charismatic on the big screen, can’t elevate the material into something worth remembering. It’s really bizarre because Tom Cruise cannot be seen as an everyday man, which is important to the story, while is Southern Louisiana accent seems to be going in and out throughout the picture. The same thing can be said about Domhnall Gleeson’s anonymous American accent. It’s just really hard to take Tom Cruise seriously as a working-class Southerner.
American Made is fine but it just doesn’t have the swagger and panache of a rise and fall story. It feels limited in the depiction of showing “how did they do that?” manner of smuggling drugs in the United States and running guns into Central America. Even its ending is somewhat limited in creating a good moment to remember your time in a movie theater. In the end, American Made is watchable but nothing else.