American Made (2017)
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Gary Spinelli
Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen, Caleb Jones, Alejandro Edda
If Barry Seal was ‘the gringo that always delivers', then American Made, the biopic of his incredible life-story, is the film that always delivers.
American Made chronicles the breathtaking story of Barry Seal, an American pilot who smuggled drugs, guns and freedom fighters for the CIA and the Medellin Cartel in the late 70s/early 80s. It is a fantastically playful biographical crime drama; an incredible story which Liman and Spinelli tell incredibly well.
Authenticity appears to be the name of the game for American Made, all of its components seemingly constructed to add the realism. Filmed almost documentary style, its shaky footage and ‘amateur’ camera work are constant reminders of the truthfulness of the tale. A no-frills script adds to this further, cleverly avoiding sound-bite one-liners and unlikely monologues, no unrealistic or snappy dialogue being employed to embellish or dramatise the story. Instead, the film’s imagination is revealed through the use of beautifully energetic cinematography. It is pacy and crisp, constantly and fluidly propelling the story forward, never losing velocity. It has a wonderful structure and direction, using some subtle, but genius narrative devices to organise the story. Periodic fourth wall breaks are scattered throughout, in which Cruise talks directly to a home video camera, help to orientate the viewer, with scratchy handwriting introducing each new chapter. All of these elements converge neatly towards the film’s end.
Much like the film's protagonist, American Made spins its many plates with charming confidence and a smile that never wanes.
One of the standout elements of American Made has to be its incredible soundtrack, along to which the film practically dances to, synchronising perfectly. Summery rock-n-roll meets classical composition meets jubilant Latin trumpets in a diverse and expressive collection of music. American Made truly is a treat for the ears. The music combined with stunning landscape shots above South American rain-forests, bursting with colour, makes it an intensely vibrant and striking piece of film.
Cruise is dazzling in one of his most transformative roles in recent years, a far cry away from his go-to ‘super-spy’ typecast, his character's charisma and unwavering cheerfulness being eternally likeable. Gleeson is fantastic as the manipulative and mostly uncompromising Shafer, Barry’s elusive CIA contact, while our Medellin Cartel leaders played by Edda and Mejía have mastered a paradoxical balance of menace and warmth. Olsen, limited though her screen-time may be, gives a solid performance as Cruise's on-screen wife, with Jones being superbly boorish as his hillbilly brother-in-law. It is a fantastic ensemble of talent, who are all as playful and dynamic as the film itself.
Overwhelmingly positive and fun to watch, and comedic till the very end, American Made’s stylish cinematography and unrelenting pace is the perfect method of telling one of the most astonishing true stories ever told. Looks good, sounds good, feels good, American Made is a triple-threat biographical drama, one which bounds along without breaking a sweat.
In one line: One of the most endearingly enjoyable biopics in recent years, filmed and structured cleverly and confidently, with a cast that throws themselves into their roles, and relishes every second.