"American Made" is directed by Doug Liman and it stars Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, the real life commercial airlines pilot who is recruited by the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions in the 70's and 80's. This eventually leads to him being involved in the Medellin Cartel and various scenarios ensue that include drug-smuggling, weapons deals, and making boat loads of money, all of this inevitably playing into the Iran-Contra affair.
I know the bare basics of the Iran-Contra scandal that went down during the Reagan administration, but the story of Barry Seal is something that I was completely unaware of until now. Allegedly, this movie is merely based off of tapes that were made by the real Seal before his death, so the events that take place in this film could very well be exaggerated by Seal in those tapes, but I can't really fault the movie for that. It's just going off of what was said by Barry Seal and in that, we end up with a pretty decent flick.
Tom Cruise is one of those actors who always commits to a role no matter what it is. Whether he's performing his own stunts and running non-stop in all of his action movies or even trying to make something work out of a shitty script like with "The Mummy", he brings his A game all the time. This movie is no exception, but it's a very different role for Cruise. Rather than just being an action star, he's basically playing a guy who's caught up in a larger than life situation, but he eventually begins to revel in all of it. He's charming, sleazy, and persuasive all in one and you realize that you're watching Cruise play an anti-hero, and he does a damn good at doing so.
Another great performance was that of Domhnall Gleeson in his role as the corrupt, equally sleazy CIA agent. To sum his character up in a nutshell, he's basically the quintessential 70's sleazeball who doesn't give a single shit about, well, anything. He's just there to get rich and act like complete slime, and Gleeson really entertained me in that regard. Gleeson hasn't really tried his hand in more comedic roles from what I've seen of him and I personally hope he delves more into it as he proves himself to be quite the young talent in this role.
Where this movie's strength lies is completely engaging and informing the audience about these events, but in a way that'll appeal to mainstream audiences so they can be taught a lesson about these events. The pacing is air tight as the movie fluidly moves from scenario to scenario, Seal getting involved in multiple situations and meeting some famous historical figures along the way. It's entertaining simply from the perspective of it being a movie, but it's also informative in that it at least taught me many things that I didn't know about the Iran-Contra affair.
That being said, this movie has one major problem and that would be the direction. I like Doug Liman as a director, but he really seemed to be ripping a bunch of pages from Martin Scorsese's book rather than doing his own style. There are times when the editing is all over the place, the continuity changing drastically between shots, and the camera movement itself being shoddy. There are times in this movie (let's say a simple dialogue scene between characters) when the camera is switching back and forth between being a steady shot on a tripod to a shaky handheld shot. I understand that Liman wanted to give off a documentary style to this movie, but it got really distracting and even nauseating at times. Liman does a great job of filming action in movies like "Edge of Tomorrow" and "The Bourne Identity", but there was no need for such shaky, hyper camera movements in a lot of this movie.
In the end, "American Made" is an example of a potentially great film that's hurt by questionable directing. This movie is interesting, entertaining, comedic, and it's lead by one of Tom Cruise's best performances in a while, but the directing really threw me off and it drastically hurt my overall enjoyment of the film. I still think this is a good movie that I would recommend checking out in theaters, but I hold back from calling it a great movie. That's just my opinion, though I still maintain that this movie did the job that every biographical film should do: Inform the audience and make them interested in the events being depicted onscreen.