American Made, Doug Liman’s action-packed biopic, follows the life of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a TWA pilot recruited by both the CIA and the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s. Whilst conducting covert reconnaissance missions for the CIA, Seal is roped into smuggling cocaine across the border and is handsomely rewarded for doing so, leading him deeper into the dangerous life of an illegal, albeit successful, double agent. Cruise’s compelling portrayal and Liman’s perceptive direction creates the charming and truly likeable character that is Barry Seal, overriding any immediate aversion to the appalling illegality of his crimes.
However, despite Cruise’s seemingly faultless acting, the film undeniably lacks depth. Barry’s wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), for example, adds comic value to the film through her characterisation as a money-loving trophy wife, although their marital relationship appears wholly superficial as she mindlessly obeys her husband’s demands to flee the state without question, or engages in life threatening sexual coitus as Seal attempts to fly a plane. Similarly, Lucy’s thieving adolescent brother-in-law, JB, primarily serves as a plot device, acting as an example of the ruthless nature of the Medellin Cartel. However, for the amount of airtime he is given, his character is severely underdeveloped, to the point that his relationships with his sister and with Seal himself seem as entirely superficial as Barry and Lucy’s marriage.
Perhaps this lack of depth is owed to the chaotic nature of the plot, with the writing at times seeming unnecessarily complicated and difficult to follow. For example, the writing avoids displaying any form of punishment stemming from Barry Seal’s illegal actions; the CIA bails him out of a Columbian jail without so much as a telling off, and subsequently is awarded thousands of acres of land and his own airport. This not only raises questions surrounding the accuracy of Gary Spinelli’s script, but leaves the film wanting more, simply scratching of the surface of an incredible true story.
Despite this, if the audience is willing to accept emergency plane landings and cocaine explosions on civilian streets, or highly unlikely, yet impeccably timed, simultaneous arrivals of the DEA, FBI, CIA, and ATF – in other words, if the audience is willing to suspend judgements and cynicism for the value of comedy – then American Made makes for easy, enjoyable viewing.
Image: Universal Pictures