Good news and bad news for Tom Cruise. Doug Liman’s second film with him, “American Made,” which opens Friday, is a hit. Despite Scientology and all the other mishegos, Cruise rises to the occasion of playing real life adventurer Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who went to work for the CIA in the 1980s and had his life turned upside down in the South American drug wars.
“American Made” is a descendant of a long line of films from the mother ship, Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas.” It falls in line with recent films like “The Big Short,” “American Hustle,” and even Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street.” Basically, a good guy is corrupted and narrates his own downfall. But most of the films of this type work, and I’m happy to say “American Made” does, too.
Will it sell to audiences, though? Even with an 88 on Rotten Tomatoes, “American Made” may have trouble. Around the world, the audience reaction seems mixed. I’m not going to tell you why now, but if “American Made” stumbles out of the box there’s a reason. I’m not saying it’s a good reason, but one you’ll understand in time.
Nevertheless, Liman has a way of working with Cruise that brings out the best in him. There’s some terrific filmmaking here. Cruise seems relaxed and relate-able, not at all as phony as he often comes through. He has a nice rapport with all the other actors, too, including Sarah Wright as his put upon gorgeous wife, and Domhnall Gleeson as his CIA contact. Caleb Landry Jones is on a roll with this latest part (see him in “The Florida Project” and “Three Billboards”).
Barry Seal has become almost a mythic figure in books and TV shows regarding the Medellin drug cartel and Pablo Escobar. Cruise and Liman ran the risk of re-stating the obvious with “American Made.” But instead they made something surprisingly fresh and resonant. And for Tom Cruise– everything else notwithstanding– it’s a little bit of a Renaissance.