‘Amer­i­can Made’ soars with Cruise at the helm

He’s a good guy gone bad with amaz­ing luck, who’s run­ning drugs and work­ing for the CIA. What could go wrong?


Amer­i­can Made points out an un­for­tu­nate time in our his­tory when gov­ern­ment shenani­gans ran amok in­ter­na­tion­ally and peo­ple did bad things in the name of greed and power. But hoo-boy, does Tom Cruise have fun with it.

The A-lis­ter is a South­ern-fried air­line pi­lot cov­ered in sweat stains and co­caine pow­der — though not al­ways at the same time — in direc­tor Doug Li­man’s awe­somely ab­surd real-life moral­ity tale ( out of four; rated R; in the­aters Fri­day). Much like The Big Short ex­plained the hous­ing-bub­ble col­lapse in an en­ter­tain­ing, less his­tory-book­ish way, Made takes the same tack when it comes to the war on drugs in the 1980s and ef­forts to help the Con­tras vs. the in­sur­gent San­din­istas in Nicaragua.

Even with a Top Gun sequel in the works, Amer­i­can Made feels like a spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor. You could imag­ine Cruise’s TWA pi­lot Barry Seal as a Mav­er­ick in his younger days, though when we meet him in 1978, he’s cre­at­ing tur­bu­lence in clear skies just to mess with pas­sen­gers and curb his own bore­dom.

He’s tal­ented be­hind the con­trol stick but also a money-hun­gry, reck­less sort who smug­gles Cuban cigars on the side, the first thing noted by an enig­matic CIA agent named Monty (Domh­nall Glee­son). They meet in a bar and Monty points out “the rev­o­lu­tion’s in the air” when con­vinc­ing him to ditch his gig and fly covert mis­sions south of the bor­der.

Barry’s got a knack for it, so the CIA ramps up his work­load, which puts him on the radar of the Medel­lín Car­tel. The drug lords talk him into smug­gling coke back to the USA, cre­at­ing an es­ca­lat­ing set of out­ra­geous cir­cum­stances for Barry, from trans­port­ing Con­tras for mil­i­tary train­ing to open­ing var­i­ous money-laun­der­ing ven­tures around his home in Mena, Ark. “I do tend to leap be­fore I look. Maybe I should ask more ques­tions?” Barry asks, show­cas­ing equal parts self-con­fi­dence and naïvete.

The usual Cruise charisma is in high gear, yet he ex­udes a sense of des­per­a­tion that’s both pal­pa­ble and hi­lar­i­ous: Ev­ery time you think he’ll fi­nally get his come­up­pance, he lucks out in some crazy way — like crash­ing a plane in a sub­urb to avoid the DEA and speed­ing off on a kid’s bi­cy­cle while awash in ex­ploded opi­ate. He makes so many mil­lions that he runs out of room to bury or stash it all, cre­at­ing his very own green­back Sword of Damo­cles.

Those il­le­gal mis­sions also let Li­man bal­ance ten­sion and com­edy at home as Barry tries to keep his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), and kids from his deal­ings. The nar­ra­tive’s mo­men­tum de­rails when his fam­ily gets sucked into the tur­moil, es­pe­cially Barry’s good-for-noth­ing brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones).

For the most part, though, Barry’s dare­devil set pieces move along at a great clip and his­tory nerds who fol­lowed Rea­gan, Pablo Es­co­bar, Ollie North and the Iran-Con­tra af­fair get to see those fig­ures and events from the eyes of an or­di­nary guy just try­ing not to die ex­traor­di­nar­ily.


Barry (Tom Cruise) tries and fails to keep wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) out of his in­ter­na­tional es­capades, in­clud­ing an of­fer he re­ally can’t refuse from drug lord Jorge Ochoa (Ale­jan­dro Edda).

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