Workaholic director Doug Liman is no stranger to tough blockbusters or star Tom Cruise, with whom he worked on the underrated sci-fi-er Edge Of Tomorrow, and here he uses Tom’s irksome smugness to good effect.
In fact, Cruise is so thoroughly annoying that he ultimately unbalances the film, meaning that this sprawling true story hoping for a grandly epic Goodfellas sweep falls short, as its protagonist is such a pain in the butt.
After a cool credit sequence that features Jimmy Carter speeches and tricks with the aspect ratio, we’re introduced to Barry Seal (Cruise), a TWA pilot back in 1978 with a long-suffering wife named Lucy (Sarah Wright), a sideline in cigar smuggling and a tendency to do damn stupid things (like pretend planes are being hit by turbulence just to frighten the passengers). He’s approached by CIA sort Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who knows all about his criminal activities and wants him, at the near-height of the Cold War, to fly dangerously over Central America and take photographs.
Big money is naturally involved, and soon Barry is called before Pablo Escobar’s scary Colombian drug industry and pressured into also helping get large amounts of cocaine into America, an offer he can’t refuse because even bigger money is involved. Hopefully the CIA and indeed Lucy and his growing family don’t find out, as the years go by, he’s roped into running guns for Reagan’s secret war in Nicaragua and his smuggling operation grows in size and cockiness.
With strong work from Wright, Gleeson, Caleb Landry Jones (as another freaky brother, just like he was in Get Out) and a small army of a cast, this is nevertheless all about Tom, who revels in the chance to play Barry as a smirking cheese-ball who, naturally, seems surprised when the inevitable shakedown comes in the final act. The film that surrounds him, with its strikingly sweaty atmosphere, convincingly tacky ‘70s/’80s décor, period pop soundtrack (Bellamy Brothers, Hot Chocolate, Linda Ronstadt, Talking Heads) and cheerfully anti-American edge, is certainly impressive but, once again, this is all about Tom, and by the end you desperately want to slap him.
Rated MA. American Made is in cinemas now