Tom Cruise plays against type in American Made
BASED on a true story of outlandish lies, American Made reunites director Doug Liman and leading man Tom Cruise after their successful collaboration on the sci-fi thriller Edge Of Tomorrow.
It's an interesting choice of role for the gung-ho star of Top Gun and the Mission: Impossible franchise: an amoral drugs smuggler and money launderer.
Despite Cruise's best effort to play against type, he can't resist adding a sheen of likeability to his portrayal of a money-driven family man, who was exposed as a pivotal figure in the Iran-Contra scandal that threatened to bring down the Reagan administration.
A different actor, who hasn't spent his career cultivating a personal brand of wholesomeness, might have elevated Gary Spinelli's script and dug deeper, right down to the marrow of this opportunistic criminal's warped psychology.
Sadly, any emotional ripples radiate solely on the picture's glossy surface.
Regardless, Liman's nostalgic visual flourishes, crisp editing and Cruise's insistence on performing his own stunts (he's in the cockpit for many of the aerial sequences) ensure this short-haul flight overcomes some of the dramatic turbulence and safely touches down without outstaying its welcome.
TWA pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) is haemorrhaging enthusiasm for his job as he provides for his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and children. He makes a little money on the side by smuggling Cuban cigars into America in his hand luggage.
This illegal practice is rumbled by CIA handler Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who coerces Barry into working for the US government by flying reconnaissance missions over Central America to take photographs of the emerging communist threat.
He proposes to install Barry as the head of a new company, IAC.
"You'd run the company but after hours, you'd work for us," grins Monty.
During one covert flight, Barry meets members of the high-powered Medellin cocaine cartel including Ochoa Vasquez (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia).
They exploit Barry's greed by employing him to transport narcotics back to America.
Acting as a runner for both sides, Barry amasses a huge personal fortune and the Seals move to Mena, Arkansas, to establish a new base of operations for Barry's rapidly expanding empire.
The unexpected arrival of Lucy's reckless brother, JB (Caleb Landry Jones), threatens to expose the trafficking, and bring Barry back down to terra firma with an almighty bump.
American Made recreates the late 1970s and 1980s with a swagger.
Wright and Gleeson are short-changed in their limited scenes, while Landry Jones is effectively deplorable in small doses.
Casting compels us to like Cruise's incarnation of Seal, even when he's endangering the people closest to him.
However, it's impossible to muster sympathy when he is clearly the smug architect of his own downfall.
Rating: two stars
AMERICAN MADE (15, 115 mins) Drama/Comedy/Thriller/Action/Romance. Starring: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia, Caleb Landry Jones.
Director: Doug Liman.
Released: August 25