There is a trend emerging in the world of cinema. While Bollywood continues to be enamoured with Dawood Ibrahim, his cohorts, his sister and his rivals, Hollywood is busy milking the life and times of Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel for their movies and Netfilx shows. Following the herd, director Doug Liman, the man behind Edge Of Tomorrow
, The Bourne Identity
and Swingers, picks up the true life story of Cuban cigar smuggler turned CIA enlisted mole turned drug mule turned money launderer turned CIA secret operative Barry Seal as the basis of his latest project.
The ageless wonder Tom Cruise essays the role of Barry Seal as we follow his life and times from 1978 to 1986. The last line from the previous paragraph works as an adequate description of the plot of a film which takes Seal and the audience on a wild ride which seems too crazy to be true and is peppered along the way with humour, more information than you'd want to know about flight mechanics and Cruise's enduring charm and smile.
American Made is a movie somehow boosted and hindered by Cruise's presence and the Seal's story. The film, while being set smack-bang in the middle of the most tumultuous time in US history and being fuelled by stupidly high amounts of cocaine, neither becomes a brash, uncompromising look into a world of men with lax morals like The Wolf Of Wall Street
was, nor falls into the category of paint-by-numbers biopics where filmmakers attempt to justify a man's decent into a shady world with unconvincing motives. American Made stays in the cushy position between the two extremes snuggled up next to The Big Short.
Coming in at a conservative runtime of 117 minutes and using '80s-era non-widescreen filming and projection techniques, the film separates itself from its contemporaries with its look, feel and colour palette. The frames seem slightly grainy, the colours are a wee bit saturated and the exposition dumps come as droves of unintelligible jargon to aid the movie in keeping its runtime low. While the movie uses crude animation to make these big piles of expositing seem palatable, the story being told and the details it needs to cover necessitate that the film use conventional story-telling techniques from time to time, and that leaves a chink in the film's goodwill armour.
The aforementioned armour of goodwill is built and held together by the levity and likability Tom Cruise brings to his role as Barry Seal. While never as complex and intelligent as a Walter White, Seal, as portrayed on screen, is a man of simple tastes and needs. He'd rather fall asleep than cheat on his wife with random women; he wants to fuel his insatiable need to have the finer things in life by earning truckloads of money, he wants to listen to the men who'll keep his family fed initially and the men who'll keep him alive eventually. Seal is a simple man who knowingly does a terrible thing sporting a smile worth a million bucks.
While committing the cardinal sin of not having Tom Cruise run in his film - I mean what sort of god allowed that to happen - Doug Liman uses every other aspect of what makes Cruise a bankable star to its fullest extent. Films and performances like this one are when I gladly forgive Cruise for his less than stellar turns in The Mummy
or Jack Reacher
and follow good old Maverick as he glides along the skies in a movie whose entertainment quotient drops below Top Gun owing only to its lack of quotable one-liners and homoerotic beach volleyball scenes.
While adequate, the supporting cast can rarely upstage Cruise. The supporting cast member could be playing Pablo Escobar or a lingerie-clad wife - the viewer's focus stays on Cruise and Cruise alone. If there is one aspect of the film Tom does not overpower, it is the excellent cinematography reminiscent of films of a bygone era. Employing some distinctive techniques which result in some excellent and tense shots, cinematographer Cesar Charlone (who shot the inimitable City Of God) creates a lush portrayal of the world the film inhabits. In a narrative that rarely offers any room for you to breathe, it's shots that linger for a few seconds over stoic backdrops that offer you some respite from the breakneck pace.
When the movie does not even do you the service of slowly winding down, and sticks to paralleling Barry Seal's meteoric rise to and crushing fall from being the richest man of a Podunk town in Arkansas, it checks the final box on the list to making a wholly enjoyable crime-drama-entertainer. The film rarely affords you any time to question its story or characters or their actions. All it wants to do is quickly tell a tight-knit entertaining tale bolstered by a charming leading man without putting much heed into things like emotional centres and sloppy tearful melodramas. And at that, it succeeds in spades.