If Tom Cruise spent the early part of this year as the butt of innumerable jokes about The Mummy (that music-less trailer was too good), he’s sure to bounce back to the good books in the wake of American Made. The stranger than fiction tale of of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who found himself working for the CIA and the Medellín Cartel — simultaneously, is precisely the zany role that shows Cruise at his very best. It’s the late 70s and Seal is bored. He’s set himself up with extra cash by smuggling cigars, but he’s still passing out before his beautiful wife emerges from the bathroom in an ensemble that clearly says “I missed you.” When a man who seems to know everything about his world shows up (and blows up his cigar scheme) Seal pegs him on the spot. “You’re CIA.”
And just like that, he’s in. The man (Domhnall Gleeson, who deserves a big hug for his seamless Americanization) calls himself Schafer. And he wants Seal to snap some pictures. Of “enemies of democracy.” From a plane. Over hostile territory in South America. Seal’s a natural. But when the Colombians (and by the Colombians I mean Pablo Escobar and the other principals of the Medellín Cartel) take notice of his comings and goings, they throw Barry a pile of cash and an offer he can’t refuse to become a drug runner. From there, things start to get interesting.
Cruise is fully in his element as a brash and cocksure Southern boy with a knack for mischief (and talking his way out of said mischief). His incredulous narration of his own misadventure is deeply reverential of Henry Hill’s delivery in Goodfellas, but where Liotta was all hard facts, Cruise gives Seal a shot of “can you hold my beer” mashed up with the unassuming narration of a Forrest Gump. American Made is technically a true crime story. But it’s most fun as an off-kilter history lesson about the not-so-distant past, and the role the U.S. played in some of the most iconic scandals and struggles of the 1980s. What’s unbelievable is how much of it hinged on one guy with malleable morals and nerves of steel.
American Made might look a bit like a sequel to Top Gun, but it’s less a showcase for Tom Cruise the romantic icon and more a playground for the Tom Cruise that’s kept cinemagoers entertained for all these years.