Review: American Made

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: The true story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a former airline pilot hired by the CIA to run guns to the Contras in Nicaragua, who hooks up with the Medellin cartel and starts importing massive amounts of cocaine into the U.S.

REVIEW: I make no secret that I’m a huge fan of Tom Cruise. He’s been making movies longer than I’ve been alive – by a few months anyways – and my whole life, I’ve always seen him as that cool, older brother figure – the guy I always wanted to be. At fifty five, Cruise looks only a little more weathered than he did in his heyday, and has defied the ravages of time. Still, recent vehicles like THE MUMMY, a rare turkey from the normally consistent star, have had fans hoping that he’d someday return to his roots in a character-driven drama.

Well folks, that day has come with AMERICAN MADE. Re-teaming him with director Doug Liman, who directed one of his better recent vehicles, EDGE OF TOMORROW, this is a fact-based tale that casts Cruise perfectly to type as the brash Barry Seal, who might be best described as what Maverick in TOP GUN would have been like had he embraced corruption a bit more. Seal, for those who don’t know, was a pilot working for the CIA and the Medellin cartel infamously run by Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa family. He supplied arms to the Contras in Nicaragua, and also flew coke for the cartel, with the agency turning a blind eye to his activities. In fact, Seal was recently a minor character in another fact based Medellin story, THE INFILTRATOR (an underrated Bryan Cranston vehicle), where he was played by Michael Pare.

Seal is an intriguing choice for Cruise. While a coke-runner, he’s by no means presented as a bad guy. He’s just totally corruptible (albeit non-violent) and not plagued by too many scruples. Cruise uses his megawatt charisma to make you love Seal, something no one else could have done. You get why his wife, played by Sarah Wright, sticks by him. He’s TOM CRUISE – movie star – and that’s what makes him genius casting in a tale that starts off light and fun, but goes down a dark road.

It’s simply Cruise’s best movie in about a decade, maybe even longer. It’s worth noting that it’s also, arguably, Liman’s best film since GO – which is saying something as he’s pretty consistent – even if his third acts sometimes go a little awry – as happened in EDGE OF TOMORROW. Here, it actually gets better and better as it goes along. My one issue would be that at under two hours, it feels like a bit was cut, with Jesse Plemons and Lola Kirke having surprisingly small roles as a local sheriff, and his wife, who become suspicious of Seal. They’re done away with very quickly – but presumably Liman wanted to keep it rolling along at a quick clip. He certainly does that, with him opting for a cool retro vibe, with the muted color giving it the look of a movie that actually could have been made around the time this was all going down, even going so far as to use the old universal logo.

This is Cruise’s show through and through, but Wright is sympathetic as his wife, and Domhnall Gleeson plays his oily CIA man to perfection. Caleb Landry Jones is also memorably sleazy as Seal’s gross brother in law, with the darker turn coinciding with his arrival. In the end, AMERICAN MADE may not exactly be GOODFELLAS, but it comes a lot closer than anything else has recently, and considering how many movies and shows we’ve seen lately about Medellin, that this is easily the best says something. Hopefully this doesn’t get lost in the post-IT, pre-BLADE RUNNER shuffle. A good one like this deserves your support.

American Made



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.