Too Erratic for my liking
American Made (2017): A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.
Ah yes. The classic conundrum for me when I write a review of an average film. How do you talk about a film that's fine? Because that's exactly what American Made is. It's fine. I had a decent amount of fun watching it, but I couldn't get into the rapid pacing and erratic tone of the film. Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise, but pretty much everyone else in the film hardly exists. Which is a shame because I love Domhnall Gleeson so I really wanted more of him in this film. There's some good editing in this film, as well as a pretty good set design, but the costumes and makeup were just ok, and I hated the cinematography. What's with all these films going to uncomfortably close headshots recently? At least in Mother! it felt intentional, whereas here it seemed accidental. Also, why does this film feel like it was shot like an episode of The Office? That was really distracting. Anyway, let's talk more about this film, shall we?
Let's start with the good. The hero of this film is Tom Cruise. This is arguably his best performance since he stole the show as Diet Coke addict Les Grossman in 2008's Tropic Thunder. I feel over the past 15 or so years Cruise has become a parody of himself. He's played basically the same character in every film and he's made tons of money doing it. However here he does a good job reminding us why he gets paid the big bucks. Cruise was excellent as Barry Seal, and while it still felt like we were watching Tom Cruise play Barry Seal, there's enough in Cruise's performance for me to at least kind of see the character come out. Kind of. Additionally, the set design of this film is gorgeous! The film travels to a lot of different locations throughout its brisk 115-minute runtime. Each spot is captured very well, with the highlight for me being the air strip on Columbia when Cruise first meets Pablo Escobar and company. Director Doug Liman and company did a great job here.
But I guess that's as good segue as any into the bad of American Made. This is Tom Cruise's film, and as a result every other character in it takes a back seat in the story. There isn't nearly enough of characters like Pablo Escobar, or "the wife" Lucy Seal, or her brother JB, or Agent Schafer, or Arkansas AG Dana Sibota. All of these characters are played really well by their respective actors, but none of them amount to anything beyond footnotes in the story of Barry Seal. This left me with a TON of questions as the film moved briskly along. Maybe that was the point of the movie, (it probably was) but it just distracted me. Ultimately that's my biggest problem with American Made: it's too erratic for my tastes. Maybe you'll appreciate the rapid pacing of the film, but for me it was too crazy for a story as expansive as this. But I can at least appreciate when a director tries to do something different. This film is certainly no War Dogs from last year, because at least this movie is trying to have some fun with itself! But there's also the cinematography. This film feels like it was shot like an episode of The Office. For those that never saw The Office, (first off, change that) that series was shot as if there was a documentary crew filming the main characters of the show the entire time. This film was seemingly shot entirely using handheld cameras, with similar push-ins and shaky cams and pans like the show and it was REALLY distracting for me. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but I will chalk this one up to a-swing-and-a-miss for American Made. Also, can we get more Domhnall Gleeson? Please? Ultimately, this film is fine. (Sound familiar?) It features a great performance from its lead, a crazy story, (didn't really touch on that, but the story here is pretty nuts and naturally dramatic) and has some good sets, but falls short for me thanks to its erratic tone and an overall lack of a meaningful supporting cast.
The Critique: The classic example of "it's fine," American Made features a great performance from Tom Cruise but falls short at the hands of its erratic storytelling style.
The Recommendation: There's a lot to like here for Cruise fans, and I think this story has enough to keep most engaged, however I would recommend waiting on this one until it's available to stream.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
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