American Made is a seriously funny film based on a seriously serious subject. It’s sort of the true story of drug smuggler and DEA informant Barry Seal. You’ve likely never heard of him, but he did play a small part in fingering the leaders of Columbia’s infamous and ruthless Medellín Cartel.
His “true” story isn’t nearly as much fun as this one.
Tom Cruise — hopefully shedding thoughts of ever again doing an awful horror movie like The Mummy — returns to his dramatic roots. Maybe dramatic isn’t the best word choice. This film is part drama, but it’s also really funny — as in funny ha-ha and funny in a twisted and almost perverse sense.
The film begins in the late 1970s and ends just after the mid-’80s. Much of Seal’s activity is connected to the Reagan-era push to support Nicaragua’s anti-communist Contras. Cruise’s Seal is a TWA pilot who is contacted by the CIA, given a business of his own and a fancy small plane, and told to go photograph insurgent military locations in Central American nations that don’t support the United States. One of those is Nicaragua.
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Some of that is true, and some of it isn’t.
One day he’s kidnapped by members of the cartel and coerced into smuggling cocaine into the U.S. Greed takes over and Seal agrees. Not sure if the kidnap part is totally true. The CIA — which the real Seal didn’t work for — catches Seal smuggling, moves his “business” to a new location and “convinces” him to smuggle guns to the Contras in Nicaragua. He finds a way to combine the gun business and drug smuggling.
Those are the plot basics and — again — some of it is true and some not so true. Then there are the huge swaths that are just plain made up.
Cruise has two areas where he’s exceptional. The first is heavy drama like Born on the Fourth of July, Rain Man and A Few Good Men. These days Cruise’s dramatic films are kinda blah. He’s still a good actor, but Cruise poses to look perfect more than he acts.
His other exceptional skill is comedy. Cruise can be flat out funny. He was hilarious at points in Interview with the Vampire, Tropic Thunder and Knight and Day. This film is more comedy than drama, and Cruise hasn’t been this good since the last time he worked with American Made’s director, Doug Liman, on the brilliant sci-fi piece Edge of Tomorrow.
Cruise has an absolute blast playing Seal as a loose-cannon who lives on the edge of reality. It’s an outrageous piece of work. When it comes to tossing off a wicked punch line, Cruise is flat good. Monologues — it seems — are his thing as well. Some of the best parts of American Made are his tongue-in-cheek narration.
These days it’s popular to buy things made American. When it comes to movies this weekend, buy American Made.
Movie name: American Made
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for language, some violence, drug use. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the AMC Kennewick 12, the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.