I don’t think Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) ever thought finding a way to stash all his bags of money would ever be a problem, but such is life when Pablo Escobar is paying your wages.
Set in the 70s and 80s, American Made sees Tom Cruise reunite with Director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, Bourne Identity) playing a TWA pilot recruited by CIA agent Schaffer (Domhall Gleeson) to capture reconnaissance images of South American insurgents after he is discovered to be smuggling Cuban contraband. Seal’s jovial antics throughout his ‘missions’ capture the attention of the Medellin Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar and his henchmen, who provide Seal with his next business venture.
It is at this point, that Seal’s CV reads: TWA pilot, CIA operative, and Escobar’s personal US delivery man – simultaneously.
This is Tom Cruise like we have never seen him. Turning his back on the highly calculating, seemingly invincible action figure role we’ve seen him play time and again, to the not so put together, happy go lucky TWA pilot is incredibly satisfying. And even though as an audience member you still know it’s Tom Cruise, you almost forget that he is equally as convincing at playing Ethan Hunt.
We first meet Seal in the middle of the night in the cockpit of an airbus. He looks to his co-pilot who’s asleep. Seal flicks off the autopilot and takes hold of the controls, where he proceeds to dip and turn the plane in quick and jagged movements. Cut to, a cabin-full of passengers waking up panicked and a co-pilot snapping into a dazed action. Seal speaks into his headset reassuringly, “nothing to worry about, just a little turbulence.”
Cruise gives Seal a devilishly cheeky charisma that lets him get away with almost anything. An attitude that repels authority and chagrins all manner of law enforcement. He lacks all remorse for his actions and even though participating in high-level criminal activity he is the ultimate anti-hero. Regardless of what is happening on screen, the audience wants Seal to come out on top. And he does. Much to our delight.
Not only is this story full of high stakes and quite serious business transactions. It is unbelievably funny. His payments from the cartel become one of the running gags throughout the entire film, where after he delivers each shipment, is presented with a duffel bag/suitcase full of money. What ensues is an entire film broken up by Seals attempt to store them. Several bags end up stuffed in the chimney, some are decanted into his wife’s (Sarah Wright Olsen) shoeboxes, and some, he buries in the backyard, only to find that where he’s just dug a whole, a bag is already buried there.
Seal is opportunistic, and when opportunity presents itself to him, he never turns it down. Especially when it means he can turn his back on the mundanity of life and pretend he is as cool as he thinks he is. There is no point throughout the entire film where it seems like he doubts himself. And it is this charming cavaliered resilience that makes him so appealing. But I have a feeling this is all Tom Cruise’s doing.
This story is one that needs to be seen to be believed. It is truly fantastic. Tom Cruise is brilliant, and to be honest, I can’t think of anyone else who would have been able to do a better job.
The cartel label Seal as the “gringo that delivers” and throughout this film, Tom Cruise undeniably does so, in spades.
Review by Isabelle Aswad