The War on Drugs has brought us many great movies and TV shows, some true and some fiction but there is always the lure of a true story to see how the cartels found ways to get passed the authorities. Why make up a story when there are so many interesting historical stories to be told. Sometimes we get a sense of Robin Hood when it comes to the Cartels, other times it is a lawman story fighting against the enemy. American Made is more on the American Dream, as one man rose to become one of the biggest importers of cocaine into America, all the while working for the C.I.A and the U.S. Government. American Made stars Tom Cruise as protagonist Barry Seal, along with Domhnall Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Sarah Wright, Lola Kirke, Jesse Plemons, Connor Trinneer, and Caleb Landry Jones.
We have seen an abundance of drug cartel movies over the years, some better than others and American Made is definitely on the positive side of that list. One stand out for me was the way it portrayed the C.I.A as the ‘villains’ of the whole saga. Barry is portrayed as the self-made man that is living the ‘American Dream’, and the cartel weren’t good people but they weren’t the real enemy of the time. It was the C.I.A and the US Government who weren’t shown in the same ‘positive’ light that the other characters and organisations were. This isn’t common practice in films of this nature. Even Sicario showed that as bad as the Government was, the cartels were worse. In fact American Made did very little to show how dangerous the cartels could be, we get one car bomb and a few violent practical jokes but nothing to the extent a film like Sicario pushed it to. The movie even relegates Pablo Escobar to being a side character in the cartel, never acknowledging how vicious he and his partners really were. Domhnall Gleeson gives a solid performance of what you would imagine an Agency man would be like during this time period, playing the political game and trying to further his career. It’s through his portrayal that the Agency are then seen as the ‘bad guys’ of the movie that use anyone they want, as long as it is to the benefit of the agent or the Agency.
Perhaps the biggest draw back of the film was its length, or what felt like its length. The film clocks in at just less than 2 hours but felt like it dragged so much during the second act of the film. The film wasn’t boring by any means but it slowed down in parts with plenty of pointless elements adding to the frustration as a viewer. The film definitely struggles with its pacing, with certain plot points being brushed over, in favour of some more beautiful shots of a plane flying over Central and South America. There were countless shots of Cruise hiding briefcases of money to show just how much money he made from the Cartel, The freedom fighters and the CIA but it was over done. In Breaking Bad, the scene with the large pile of money demonstrates the wealth accumulated by Walter White through out the series, it is a short scene but the audience get the point. In American Made, Liman feels the need to repeatedly show Tom Cruise struggling to hide his money, despite how much he is spending. If you cut this back the movie would begin to move quicker. The money montages aren’t the only element that could be cut, the storyline of the brother-in-law (Landry Jones) has absolutely no impact on the story. I won’t spoil it but after I left the movie I thought to myself, that character offered nothing to the overall story, any of the character development and took up over 15 minutes of screen time. This is a typical attempt to incorporate drama without needed to. The character could not have been in the film and the results would have been the same.
Given the performance Tom Cruise gave earlier in 2017 in The Mummy, American Made is an Oscar winning performance. Tom Cruise is a fantastic actor and gives a strong performance as Barry Seal, despite not looking anything like the character. Cruise and Seal are not too different in age, by about 10 years or so but still. At this stage in Cruise’ career does he need to consider how old he can play or who can play his spouse? Sarah Wright, who played his wife, is over 20 years younger than him. This isn’t a major flaw as much as it is an observation as to how Hollywood treats certain actors. I do feel sorry for Caleb Landry Jones who appears to have been type cast as the creepy younger brother to the hot successful older sister. Though this character is completely irrelevant to the plot it is not dissimilar to his character from Get Out. He might want to be careful to not fall into this trap as an actor. Having said that though the cast of this movie do a fantastic job as it is more of an actor driven movie.
American Made is a great Tom Cruise movie but not a great Doug Liman film, nor the best film about the War on Drugs or Cartels. I am not sure how factual the film is, given the fact the C.I.A were involved but it is an interesting story, but not an over all great film. It is definitely enjoyable and there is plenty of humour to go around. My major problems with the film are its length, it feels like it has a run time of and extended edition Lord of the Rings film, whilst also falling into a similar trait I felt with Doug Liman’s last project The Wall. I have seen it be done before and I have seen it be done better.
Fans of Tom Cruise should definitely see this film, as it is a great performance by him. If you like this time period it is definitely worth checking out.
American Made scores a 6.5/10
Thanks for reading my review. Have you seen American Made? What were your thoughts about the movie? Let me know in the comments section below.
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