American Made (Liman, 2017)

It’s strange. American Made indulges in techniques that tend to irritate me when I see them in other films, such as piss-coloured tinting to represent a bygone era (here, the ‘70s); erratic and self-aware editing and framing; and chintzy animations to illustrate the protagonist’s complex geographical maneuvering of the planet. It’s loud and very full of itself, and doesn’t even bother to stick to the truth. Heck, if you’re going to cast a gruffly good-looking Tom Cruise as someone who was 300 pounds in real life, you’re obviously not aiming for strict fidelity. So I was prepared for the worst. A few groans and a migraine, maybe.

Instead, I actually thought it was rather… fun? The aforementioned things still irked me, but the film wholeheartedly embraces its trashiness and spins a mightily entertaining yarn in the process. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone who went from being a commercial pilot to a CIA operative to a drug runner for a Colombian cartel to a White House lackey in such a relatively short span of time. This Barry Seal guy sure got the short end of the stick, being thrown about like a pawn by a country that was supposed to protect him. Sure, he was morally dissolute and greedy as fuck, but the way he was used with such cold efficiency by people who didn’t care a lick about his wellbeing—that’s sad. We all want to live our lives at least knowing there are others looking out for us. Seal, on the other hand, was on his own from the beginning. It’s a wonder he survived as long as he did. Have to admire that, even if everything else he did was anything but admirable.

For someone nearing 60, Cruise still knows how to charm the pants off you. At times he does seem to be channeling Matthew McConaughey with the toothy grin and Southern drawl, which was a bit distracting, but all in all it’s a very fine performance that does not squander his strengths. Loved seeing Jayma Mays cameoing as a badass DA, while I rolled my eyes when I saw Caleb Landry Jones doing his old greasy, mumbly shtick again. The dude needs to stop thinking himself the second coming of Brando and start enunciating.

Is American Made a good movie, per se? Uhhh… not really. You’re not going to walk out of this one thinking it the best film of the year or anything. It’s a feistily puckish concoction, though, and a popcorn flick that won’t leave you wishing for your money back. Go in for a good time, and you’ll get it.