American Made

I dig Doug Liman as a director. One of his first movies was Swingers, which was one of the funniest indie films ever. It made stars out of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. The film he did that followed that (Go) was excellent. He gave us the Jason Bourne films, and last year did a little war picture called The Wall which was good. And everyone was surprised with how fun the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow was. So he and Cruise team up again, and we wonder — will lightning strike twice? Well, it sort of did. This movie will get critically praised and audiences will eat it up. It’s that character you love to see Cruise playing — a daredevil pilot with a winning smile. Many critics are saying things like “He’s an anti-hero we actually like.”

Well, actually…not so much. At first I liked him. He was a bored TWA pilot, occasionally joking with passengers, he smuggled in Cuban cigars, and was too tired to sleep with his gorgeous wife (Sarah Wright Olsen) when he got home. A CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) talks about his smuggling, and suggests he come work for him. The job entails flying over Central America to take photos of militant forces. Once we see those forces shooting guns at him (and occasionally hitting the plane), you wonder why he’d continue. Apparently, that wasn’t enough action for him. He decides to become a drug trafficker with the Medellin Cartel (remember Pablo Escobar?). At that point, I stopped worrying about his character and if he got caught or shot. Something early in his meeting with these guys should’ve cured him of his desire for this excitement (and extra cash). Surely his wife wasn’t after the money. As she threatens him at one point, “I can always go back to my job at Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

Yet just as I wondered about Seal…why is his wife not more concerned with the dangers involved? Or, why isn’t she more concerned with how her idiot brother might ruin things when he shows up? This redneck character, JB, is played perfectly by Caleb Landry Jones. He was the kid on the bike in No Country For Old Men, and was the weird redhead in the terrific horror film The Last Exorcism. How could you not laugh at a few of the comedic moments he brought, especially his souped up green AMC Gremlin (complete with confederate flag painted on the hood).

Southern actor Jesse Plemons has a small part, but he’s solid.

The tagline on the movie poster is “Based on a true lie.” That’s clever, since this is the crazy tale of a real life person — Barry Seal. The problem is that the movie just becomes one frenetic roller coaster ride, without us ever really understanding the motivations of the characters. That means we get the shaky camera, which I’m sick of. It means we get the cool soundtrack, with the Allman Brothers, Talking Heads, and George Harrison. It means we get repetitive scenes, and scenarios that make you think of other movies (that list would include Casino, Air America, Catch Me If You Can, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, War Dogs, and Gold). That last movie Gold, made me think about how Matthew McConaughey played an unlikable character that we rooted for. That’s because we understood his desperation and motivation. Again, we don’t understand why Seal would’ve ever continued with such a dangerous job (until the third act, when everyone has him over the barrell and he has to continue). Early on, he got more money than he knew what to do with. Hard to root for somebody like that.  

Perhaps I was a little disappointed because I expect more from the director. Not from Cruise. Remember, he just gave us The Mummy a few months ago.

2 ½ stars out of 5.