In American Made, director Doug Liman’s newest film, Tom Cruise plays another thrill seeking, aviator-clad pilot. This time however, Cruise plays Barry Seal, a real-life pilot with connections during the late 1970s and early 1980s to the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), Medellín Cartel, and later the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.). However, the action-packed film is far from historically accurate and instead uses snippets of Barry Seal’s actual involvement during the Regan-era and amplifies them Tom Cruise style. Rather than a truthful account, Liman gives Cruise the ability to put on a “Maverick all grown up” act as he maintains his mischievous confidence.
Director Doug Liman is also known for Edge of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Seal’s wife is played by Sarah Wright who until now has most notably acted in Parks and Recreation.
The film opens on a talented-but-bored commercial airline pilot with a wife and kids who he rarely sees (and are quite frankly irrelevant to the plot). Then, a C.I.A. agent approaches Seal because of his impressive flying skills. Seal is recruited by the C.I.A. to take surveillance photos of South American countries that will provide intel to the United States. Here begins the film of a thousand subplots.
From this point on, Seal gets into business with anyone Liman had room for in the film, regardless of historical accuracy. Seal develops a close relationship with the leaders of the Medellín Cartel, most notably Pablo Escobar. He also transports guns to Contras and soon after transports Contras to America for training camp as President Reagan amplifies the Iran-Contra scandal.
As the film continues, the plot becomes more and more predictable. Seal eventually makes so much money from different sources that he is burying bags of cash in his backyard. It is at this point of overwhelming wealth that the audience knows Seal is bound to get caught.
Aside from the other subplots Liman deemed necessary to employ (e.g., a troublesome brother-in-law, a pregnant wife, an unaware town sheriff), the filmic style is uncomfortably distracting. The film opens with high-quality, cinematic wide shots, but it then quickly cuts to documentary-style GoPro shots that are jarring to the audience. Perhaps this juxtaposition would be valuable to the film if it were not also for the addition of cartoon style explanations of Cold War politics, real life news reel clips, and Seal’s self-made confession home videos.
Overall, Cruise fulfills the expected role of the charming pilot who is seeking to make his life more interesting by any means possible. While his acting style is expected, his unmistakable archetype is not what takes away from this film. Instead, it is the erratic combination of filming styles and the historical inconsistencies that detract from the experience.