Cash and Barry… OUT 25 AU­GUST

Total Film - - Contents -

Tom Cruise flies high in an un­be­liev­able true story.

Nar­ra­tion over freeze­frames. Ironic news footage. Dress-up-box wigs and out­fits. Yep, you know what to ex­pect from based-ona-true-story ca­per Amer­i­can Made. From the genre’s pre­ferred stylis­tic tics to the Amer­i­can Dream­turned-night­mare arc, we’re in fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory. It’s a re­lief then, that Tom Cruise and di­rec­tor Doug Li­man tell Barry Seal’s story with such en­ergy and panache. And what an un­be­liev­able story it is. The kind you’d dis­miss as too far-fetched if it didn’t come with that ‘based on true events’ tag. Cruise might be back in the avi­a­tor shades and soar­ing at break­neck speeds, but this ain’t no Top Gun 2.

Seal is a plum role for Cruise, fully util­is­ing his charis­matic grin but also re­assert­ing his char­ac­ter-ac­tor chops af­ter a string of big-bud­get out­ings pre­dom­i­nantly play­ing spins on his ac­tion-man per­sona. When we first meet Seal in the late ’70s, he’s a com­mer­cial air­line pi­lot, earn­ing a few ex­tra bucks on the side by smug­gling Cuban cigars. His il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties at­tract the at­ten­tion of CIA bod Monty Schafer (Domh­nall Glee­son), who enlists Seal and his fly­ing skills to take covert pho­tos of South Amer­i­can in­sur­gents.

The mis­sions are a suc­cess, but Seal’s look­ing for more cash, so nat­u­rally pounces on the lu­cra­tive drug-run­ning op­por­tu­nity pre­sented by the fledg­ling Medel­lín Cartel. He soon be­comes an in­ter­na­tional con­tra­band-smug­gling brand unto him­self, with a fleet of planes in his own hangar, CIA-spon­sored in­sur­gents train­ing on his land, and more ban­knotes than he can hide in his size­able fam­ily home.

While there’s much plea­sure to be had in Cruise’s swag­ger­ing charm in the early scenes, it’s a per­for­mance of more than just blus­ter. He nails Seal’s nervy, out-of-his-depth un­ease, while main­tain­ing a wide-eyed like­abil­ity that keeps you root­ing for him (and just about be­liev­ing that his le­nient wife would put up with his an­tics).


It also feels like the first time in ages that Cruise has had the chance to be prop­erly funny; the sight of him dusted head-to-toe in co­caine, ped­alling fu­ri­ously on a child’s push­bike, is not eas­ily for­got­ten. Whether he’s bluff­ing his way through cartel meet­ings, mak­ing a dicey take-off that sees him bar­relling through tree­tops, or doc­u­ment­ing his story in video mes­sages when things start to go sour, he holds al­most ev­ery frame of the film.

Fit­tingly for such a dizzy­ing tale, Li­man keeps things mov­ing at a clip. Any part of the story that can be told as a mon­tage, is. Seal and his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), pro­duce a child in a mat­ter of a few quick cuts, and the in­creas­ing age of their kids is one way in which you can keep a han­dle on the time­line (the glar­ing ti­tle cards in­di­cat­ing the date and the lo­ca­tion be­ing an­other, more ob­vi­ous way). It’s as if Li­man only slows down for the fun­ni­est/scari­est/most jaw-drop­ping anec­dotes. It means that the sup­port­ing cast get lim­ited


scenes to make an im­pact, but some do make the most of their mod­est screen time. Glee­son is re­li­ably great value as the sin­is­ter but charm­ing CIA suit who shows up and dis­ap­pears like a ghost, and Wright makes an im­pres­sion in what’s fre­quently a thank­less role in this sort of film.


Li­man pre­vi­ously di­rected Cruise in Edge Of To­mor­row, one of the lat­ter’s most en­joy­able non-Mis­sion films in re­cent years. Where that hi-sci-fi­con­cept saw Cruise trapped in a live, die, re­peat spin-cy­cle, the tra­jec­tory of Amer­i­can Made is al­to­gether more lin­ear, but just as in­escapable.

As soon as Caleb Landry Jones shows up, ex­ud­ing a rep­til­ian sleazi­ness as Seal’s brother-in-law, Bubba, you can chart the course we’re head­ing on. Pre­dictable as it might be, Li­man still ratch­ets up con­sid­er­able ten­sion, as Seal’s re­la­tion­ships with the CIA, DEA and cartel are strained to break­ing point. De­spite the global reach of the op­er­a­tion, it all be­gins to feel might­ily claus­tro­pho­bic. Seal’s wild shenani­gans are given an ad­di­tional fris­son of dan­ger by Cruise’s com­mit­ment to the fly­ing scenes, in­clud­ing one par­tic­u­larly nerve-jan­gling cargo-drop tech­nique that the ac­tor did for real while his plane was on au­topi­lot. Those mo­ments pin you to the very edge of your seat, with Li­man’s dog-eared style mak­ing for a film that still man­ages to feel some­what un­pre­dictable, even within a very fa­mil­iar tem­plate. Yes, it might be the kind of story that you’ve seen a mil­lion times be­fore, but there’s enough pace and in­ven­tion to make it worth an­other go. Matt May­tum


Cruise is on top form in a base­don-fact thriller that over­comes its fa­mil­iar trap­pings with au­da­cious de­tails and flat-out pac­ing.

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