American Made - This Very-Much-A-Tom-Cruise Movie Knows How To Rock
Dir: Doug Liman
Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons
We here at Last Word are long-term, unashamed admirers of Tom Cruise. And here’s the why. Not only is he a tremendously good actor, but the man is also a walking vat of charisma. And, to his eternal credit, he has used both those things to play a wide-ranging variety of out and out shits over the years. Think about it, almost from day one – Maverick – bit of an arrogant self obsessed bastard really, Charlie Babbitt – cynical git, just out to do over his brother, Ron Kovic – not a nice guy, that bar tender from Cocktail – bit of a wanker, that lawyer from The Firm – the yuppie tosser we all hated in the ‘80s, his dad in War Of The Worlds was borderline in need of reporting to social services, and, best/worst of all, Jerry Maguire, a man so full of himself, and so blind to everything and everyone else, that when he did fall in love with someone, it was with Renee Zellweger’s son and not the amazing woman standing in front of him. (And when he did pull his arse out of the first on that one, he only just barely managed it – she had the best line.)
The reasons Cruise could get away with all of these evils - and still become the biggest star on the planet – are due to the two attributes mentioned above. He is first and foremost a terrific actor (and one assured enough to have little or no problem with allowing his co-stars to either share or steal the screen from him) but – and here’s the weapon – knows that that indefinable on-screen charisma, that relationship between himself and what and, more importantly, how the camera captures him, is enough to create empathy with hose watching. Thus, you want Maverick to succeed, you want Charlie Babbitt to find redemption, and you need Jerry Maguire to have her at hello.
It’s a unique combo possibly in all of screen history, and on many occasions the man’s good looks and killer smile have unfairly masked just how brave his choices as a major leading man have been.
Now, American Made is not in the league of any of those above, but it is certainly the first time in what feels like far too many years that Cruise has reached for that muscle, and found a director who knows how to let him flex it. The collapse of the star system and the need to court the world market have reduced the subtlety of what Cruise has done before into a procession of action men and increasingly large stunts. Now, we love the Mission Impossible movies as much as those in the next sold out multiplex, but damn, it’s nice to see old school Tom smiling back from beneath those aviator shades once more. And working with a director who truly understands the value – and ability - of the man.
That said, this tale of late’70s/early ‘80s pilot turned CIA covert operative turned drug runner Barry Seal is not the best movie either have ever made. But it is slick, funny, borders on absurdist, has something to say, says it well, and does it all in the glare of a note-perfect star performance, that sees the screen rarely missing a Tom for its entire running time.
Its historical veracity may be debateable, but as a “yarn” with some basis in reality t’s a fine one, with Domhnall Gleeson also getting to show his range as Seal’s CIA link.
It’s big, it’s brash, it’s easy to underrate, but there’s an awful lot going on underneath its surface. It’s practically a metaphor for Tom Cruise himself.
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