Truth is stranger than fiction. All fiction is based on reality one way or another with true-life tales often more engrossing with American Made being a fine example. The story it presents feels fanciful yet plausible. It helps having Tom Cruise as its lead as he has made a career of portraying characters to which audiences can relate. Assisted by Doug Liman’s tight direction, American Made is an outlandish tale ripped from yesterday’s headlines.
Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is a former airline pilot working with a dubious crowd. Discarding the clean life and now smuggling drugs into Central America, Barry is enjoying the life of easy money and dark crimes. His wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) tries to keep out of his wayward life which is made harder by the arrival of the C.I.A. Recruiting Barry to provide intelligence into the main cartel he’s involved with, the federal agency takes no prisoners. With both the government and criminals on his trail, Barry’s actions have consequences reaching all the way to the White House.
This is an entertaining history lesson. Filling in the details of a scandal that engulfed Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, it explores the main players in a tawdry saga. Whilst events are played in a heightened manner, you can see how certain people justified their actions. In Cruise’s energetic performance, Barry is an opportunist who goes with the flow as long as it suits his needs. His dealings with various suspect types alter his mindset and determination to live life to the full.
Liman’s focussed direction mixes the drama and humour well. Although the subject matter is serious it is presented in a rousing manner mirroring the high-flying excessive 1980’s period setting. Greed was certainly good for Barry and his cohorts with little of the screenplay feeling drawn out. There’s hardly a dull moment with real-life figures given bouquets and brickbats in gleefully equal doses.
Cruise again proves his gift for picking the right material. He is well cast with his co-stars giving their all in an engaging movie. Although some situations may have been changed for narrative purposes, this true-life tale still fascinates decades after its denouncement.