American Made review: Tom Cruise in a Cold War ‘Goodfellas’? Count us in

Another Doug Liman collaboration lets Cruise have fun with who he used to be

The official trailer for "American Made", starring Tom Cruise and Domhnall Gleeson. Video: Universal Pictures

Domhnall Gleeson and Tom Cruise

Film Title: American Made

Director: Doug Liman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen, Alejandro Edda, Caleb Landry Jones

Genre: Thriller

Running Time: 115 min

Thu, Aug 24, 2017, 05:15

   

Three years ago, Doug Liman proved there was still life left in Tom Cruise with the initially underperforming – but ultimately profitable – Edge of Tomorrow. Cruise was wise to place himself back in Liman’s hands. There’s a lack of shade to this study of America’s crazy, drunken farewell to the Cold War. The film flings itself off a ledge in the opening moments and then flails in panic for the succeeding two hours. But it’s brash, funky, exciting and, crucially, it allows Cruise to have some fun with who he used to be.

American Made begins (as did Argo, among others) with a vintage version of its studio’s logo. Once the old Universal globe has disappeared, César Charlone’s camera forces itself right into the still-smooth Cruise face. The real-life Barry Seal (for it is he) flew for TWA at a time, the 1970s, when a pilot was the most glamorous job on the planet. But the CIA has something still more exciting in mind. One night, the charming, mildly sinister “Schafer” (a superbly engaged Domhnall Gleeson) approaches him in a bar and suggests that he might like to take some surveillance photographs in Central America. They provide him with a nice new plane and his own airfield.

Soon Barry is moonlighting for Pablo Escobar and associated drug barons. Then Schafer has him flying guns to Nicaragua and potential rebels back to the US for training.

We could scarcely list the escalating twists even if we wanted to. The confusion is the point. As the US drifted towards the final catastrophe that was Iran-Contra, the various conflicting forces became ever more entangled in symbiotic threads. Seal ends up hiding bags of cash in every available wall cavity and laundering the rest through every available business in his rural community.

The story reaches its most furious befuddlement at the point when Tom Cruise became actual Lord of the Zeitgeist. It is part of his oddness that one can imagine him playing the part in 1986. The 4,000-watt dentistry hasn’t changed. He still wears sunglasses like that is a profession in itself. The actor is incorporated into a whirlwind of period detail that – unlike the recent Atomic Blonde – is accurate and stops short of full fetishisation. Charlone shoots in cop-show glare to the accompaniment of thumping disco and (later) Talking Heads.

The film-makers have admitted the unmistakable influence of Goodfellas. That’s fine. The problem is that about two thirds of American Made plays to the rhythms of that film’s final, paranoid denouement. It’s all panic. It’s all money. It’s all pursuit. The monotony does eventual grate. But this is still Cruise’s best film since his last Doug Liman collaboration.

It’s better than that makes it sound.