Here’s a type of story that is getting more difficult to tell with each passing film – the fading tale of the American Dream.
There have been a plethora of movies that have done this well, including “Goodfellas,” “American Movie,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and more recently “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Films that showcase the highest of highs in passionate greedy glory and revile in the lowest of lows when egos become bigger than bank accounts and reality comes crashing back down. There’s a hard truth to these movies that hands down righteous justice to our characters, some going from a job that’s better than being the President to being an average nobody, while still taking the time to glorify how amazing their lives were.
“American Made” is the newest film to join this genre, and while it has some crazy moments here and there, it exchanges the pomp and circumstance for a more gritty realistic interpretation. This ends up taking a lot of the excitement out of the movie, especially when Tom Cruise’s performance is so mellow and underwhelming.
The movie follows TWA pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) after he contacted by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Schafer hires Seal to be a private pilot for him, assigned to take pictures of small Central American villages and weapon shacks with a special camera inserted into his airplane. Eventually, Seal is contacted by the Columbian drug cartel to smuggle their produce into America without being caught, which Seal agrees to do. Seal is eventually caught, but Schafer bails him out and hires him for a new task of helping out the contras in Nicaragua by bringing them weapons and even training them on his own private airfield, all while becoming filthy rich.
My problem with “American Made” is Tom Cruise’s performance as Barry Seal and how lifeless he feels. Maybe this is because he’s always looking over his shoulder or because he knows he cannot trust anyone, but Barry never seems to take joy in anything he does. He has enough money to fill up his whole closet and burying more in his backyard, and I do not think he ever raises his voice above a whisper. Since he always acts like he’s in the middle of his lowest low, he is so unemotional here that it takes most of the fun out of his rise to glory.
The camera work in “American Made” is pretty horrendous, with lots of shaky or unsteady camera movement and unnecessary zooms in the middle of some shots. The cinematography is going for a home video from the 1980s feel, but it draws so much unnecessary attention to itself that it took me out of the viewing experience.
While Barry Seal’s journey from TWA pilot to CIA henchman to drug and soldier delivery man is not a boring one, and even has some great moments about the kind of power rush he can only get in America, “American Made” lacks any sort of charm to its journey. There was not any scene that stood out as being entertaining or note-worthy, just a dull version of “Goodfellas” or “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Final Grade: C-