Bethlehem Press

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review: ‘American Made’

Friday, October 13, 2017 by Paul Willistein in Focus


If even a portion of “American Made” is factual, then a reassessment of major portions of United States foreign and domestic policies might be in order.

“American Made,” which stars Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, a TWA commercial airlines pilot, turned CIA reconnaissance pilot, turned cocaine-drugs-weapons and insurgents smuggler, is “Based on A True Story,” according to the movie’s opening credits.

However, a web site for “American Made” states the movie is “Based on a True Lie.”

Whom do you believe?

Perhaps we’ll never know the real story behind the 1980s’ Iran-Contra Scandal, which is the back story, or “the” story, at the heart of “American Made,” and is dealt with perfunctorily in the screenplay by Gary Spinelli (“Stash House,” 2012). At the time, with the Cold War underway, the Communist effort to undermine and topple regimes in Central American was no idle threat.

Verifiable facts aside, “American Made” tells a fascinating story, is rip-roaring entertainment, and includes one of Tom Cruise’s best-ever performances.

Credit director Doug Liman (“Fair Game,” 2010; “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” 2005; “The Bourne Identity,” 2002; “Swingers,” 1996), who directed Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow,” 2014), for bringing out the gung-ho in Cruise’s gusto.

As the protagonist who’s trying to provide for his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), and their expanding young family, Seal (Cruise) decides to leave a safe career and gets in deep, and deeper.

Soon, he’s in league with none other than Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord; Manuel Noriega, military dictator of Panama 1983-89, and Oliver North, National Security Council staff member during the Iran-Contra affair during President Ronald Reagan’s second term (1984-89).

Ironically, the covert drug-smuggling is going on during the launch of First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” to drugs campaign.

Seal is apparently making so much money, he doesn’t know where to hide it. The CIA, DEA, ATF, FBI and assorted U.S. government acronym agencies are on Seal’s trail, and the minions of the The Medellín Cartel and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas want his tail.

“American Made,” in the tradition of “American Hustle” (2013), which was based on the 1970s FBI ABSCAM operation, keeps the Iran-Contra details to a minimum, concentrates on the characters and the action, and tells the story in a larger-than-life operatic style.

Cruise narrates the film. The technique of the freeze-frame is used, with the scene stopped, followed by video of Seal (Cruise) speaking directly to camera (Seal apparently made videos to tell his side of the story). Title cards indicate locations and topics and years (for example, CIA 78). Maps are also shown to help explain the convoluted plot.

Liman keeps the camera moving in the cinematography by Director Photography César Charlone (“The Constant Gardener,” 2005; “City of God,” 2002), which often utilizes a hand-held camera, and a 1970s over-saturated palette. There are several thrilling flight sequences of small planes (with Cruise apparently doing some of the stunt flying).

Editing by Andrew Mondshein (“The Sixth Sense,” 1999) heightens the frenetic pacing and intensity to good effect. Interiors, clothes and cars of the 1970s-80s help give the film its loosey-goosey ethos in the production design by Dan Weil (“Syriana,” 2005; “The Bourne Identity,” 2002).

Portions of movies, television news broadcasts and archival photos lend veracity to the story. Pop and rock music of the era (“Let Your Love Flow,” The Bellamy Brothers; “Blue Bayou,” Linda Ronstadt; “Wah-Wah,” George Harrison) augments the film’s energy.

The role of Barry Seal is the most substantial role in years for Cruise, with some 46 films to his credit, including “Mission: Impossible” series, 2015, 2011, 2006, 2000, 1996; “Minority Report,” 2002; “Eyes Wide Shut,” 1999; “Rain Man,” 1988; “Top Gun,” 1986; The Color of Money,” 1986; Oscar nominations, actor: “Magnolia,” 1999; “Jerry Maguire,” 1996; “A Few Good Men,” 1992; “Born on the Fourth of July,” 1989). Cruise flashes those pearly whites with that wonderful smile of his, gives those riveting focused facial asides, and brings that 20-mile glare to bear under his intense eyebrows.

In supporting roles are Domhnall Gleeson (Monty Schafer, CIA “handler”), Caleb Landry Jones, Lucy’s brother) and Lola Kirke (Judy Dowling, Arkansas attorney general).

As Barry Seals says, “I’m the gringo that always delivers.” So does Tom Cruise and “American Made.”

With “American Made,” Cruise is the “Top Gun Runner.”

Just say yes to “American Made.”

“American Made,”MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for language throughout and some sexuality-nudity; Genre: Action, Biography, Comedy; Run time: 1 hr, 55 min.; Distributed by Universal Studios.

Credit Readers Anonymous:“American Made” was filmed in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Medellin, Colombia.

Box Office,Oct. 6: The long-anticipated “Blade Runner 2049” slid to only $31.5 million, opening at No. 1, distancing itself from “The Mountain Between Us,” which opened at No. 2 with only $10.1 million, as “It” dropped one place to No. 3, with $9.6 million, $304.9 million, five weeks, and “My Little Pony: The Movie” rode to No. 4, opening with only $8.8 million.

5. “Kingsman” dropped four places, $8.1 million, $79.9 million, three weeks.

6. “American Made” dropped three places, $8.1 million, $30.4 million, two weeks.

7. “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” broke down three slots, $6.7 million, $43.8 million, three weeks.

8. “Victoria and Abdul” ambled up three places into the Top 10 with $4.1 million, $5.9 million, three weeks.

9. “Flatliners” flatlined another four places, $3.8 million, $12.3 million, two weeks.

10. “Battle of the Sexes” volleyed down four places, $2.4 million, $7.6 million, three weeks.

Unreel,Oct. 13:

“Marshall,”PG-13: Reginald Hudlin directs Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, and Sterling K. Brown in the Biography, Drama about a young Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

“The Foreigner,”R: Martin Campbell directs: Katie Leung, Jackie Chan, Rufus Jones, and Mark Tandy in the Action Thriller about a businessman seeks justice when his daughter is killed.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes