American Made Cruise

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Hollywood megastar Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman, both known for action movies, have collaborated once again. This time though, unlike the previous Edge of Tomorrow, it is for a film that is out of their comfort zones - the crime-drama American Made. The venture has proved satisfactory for Christian Tesfaye, who awards 7 out of 10 stars. 

Barry Seal lived life to such a degree that it is almost not a tragedy that he died aged 46. In one life time, the American was a pilot, drug smuggler, undercover agent, gun trafficker and a beloved husband and father of five. He also did not a have a type. Seal worked with the infamous criminal organization Medellin Cartel, the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Understandably, Hollywood is intrigued. More accurately the movie studio Universal Productions agreed to distribute the movie, especially as films based on real life scenarios have become exceptionally successful at the box-office and in awards circuits these past couples of years. Just look at The Revenant or Hidden Figures.

American Made is about Adler Berriman “Barry” Seal (Tom Cruise), who at the movie’s beginning is a pilot for the Trans World Airlines (TWA), now Transatlantic & Western Air. But he is informed by the CIA that his country needs him, to fly reconnaissance missions over South America. He accepts, but the money proves too little.

But do not fret, for a then largely unknown Colombian drug cartel befalls him. The Medellin Cartel, represented by the likes of Pablo Escobar, recruit Seal to smuggle cocaine into America. Not a very patriotic undertaking, but Seal accepts anyway because he has a family to look after.

Seal, though, gets caught, but does not go to prison. He instead gets acres of land in the state of Arkansas, called Mena. In return, the CIA asks Seal to run guns to the Contras, Nicaraguan counter revolutionaries who opposed the communist Sandinista government. It is in the United States’ interest to see a Central America free of socialists, which Seal can be a great help in. Always the patriot, he accepts, and always the family man, he is glad to find the Medellin Cartel operates in that territory too.

The film is directed by Doug Liman, the mind behind The Bourne Identity. His first hit was Swingers, which starred the likes of Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, and was a comedy. It is hard to make the connection with the direction his later movies took. Doug was a man mostly satisfied with the excitement of reality, as it lends itself to the unreality of cinema. He liked characters and down to earth situations, unflustered with fight scenes or car crashes.

But six years later came The Bourne Identity, an adaptation of the Robert Ludlum spy novel. In undertaking the project, Liman set the foundation for the Bourne franchise, which later came to completion in The Bourne Ultimatum by Paul Greengrass (let us pretend the recent two atrocious sequels do not exist).

Ever since, Liman has never been the same. It is not clear what he found in Identity – probably a fatter paycheck, for the film is not that great a movie – which has led Liman to abuse us with grossly exaggerated action movies ever since.

After the likes of Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Jumper, Liman found himself in the company of Tom Cruise, on the set of Edge of Tomorrow. Another action adaptation movie with a plot skimmed right out of Groundhog Day, it most probably served as-a-get-to-know-you occasion for the director and actor.

For two individuals addicted to action movies, the outcome is indeed a relief. Cruise, right on the back of one of the lowest rated movies this summer, The Mummy, has done himself a service by lapping to this project. He does not have much of a resemblance to the real Seal, but he hits the true life figure’s Southern accent on the head. Cruise’s comic persona, rarely glimpsed unless on the occasion of movies like Jerry Maguire, is enthusiastically showcased in American Made.

The film has an unorthodox cinematography, which is not always as “professional” as Hollywood movies are required to look. To me, it is a welcome intrusion on conventional filmmaking. American Made’s visuals are not exactly avant-garde but they could serve as a portal to more viscerally sophisticated films for the untested and unadventurous mainstream film audience.

American Made is exciting. It takes dramatic license to the life of Seal and his adventurous but does not ruin the film by trying to cater to the lowest denominator. It is a movie that does take a misguided view of the protagonist’s morality – let us not have any misconception, Seal was immoral – but it also tries to contemplate that whatever goes up must inevitably come down.

Lucky is the key word here, even if in the end tragedy followed. Seal lived by the sword, and then died by it. There is no unique lesson in American Made, just that there was an average man, called Seal, who happened to have himself entangled in crucial events, like the Iran-Contra affair, in his country’s history. But he flew too close to the sun, and had to come back down to earth. In Seal’s case, the earth was just too far away for him to have survived the fall.

Published on Sep 09,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 906]



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