Tom Cruise is known for doing his own stunts, but for American Made, he also learned to fly.
Based off true events from the 1980’s, American Made tells the story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a commercial pilot, husband, father, and adrenaline junkie who simply cannot content himself with anything safe. After becoming bored with his job, Seal begins smuggling drugs in his airbus cockpit across the US border. It’s not long before a CIA handler known only as ‘Schafer’ (played by Domhnall Gleason) notices Seal’s guts and skill in the air, recruits him to take aerial photos of Colombian military movement, and provides him with a fast plane for the job. Meanwhile, Seal keeps up his drug smuggling: he takes pictures for the Feds on the way down, and hauls cocaine for the cartels on the way back. Both parties pay in duffel bags of cash—so much cash, Seal and his wife run out of places to bury it. The deal can only work for so long before it crashes.
American Made is the second collaboration between the ever-smiling superstar and action-thriller director Doug Liman, the man behind The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow. Those films established Liman as a reliable workaday craftsman, and here, Liman shows he can also do humor, toying with the absurdity of the situation through energetic montage editing. Yet at the same time, Liman strikes an impressive tonal balance between cocky humor and real gravitas. As Seal insists over and over, he’s doing this to take care of his family. Even when the situation spirals out of control, Seal produces a herculean effort to keep the cash flowing, keep his adrenaline rushing, and most of all, keep his family safe.
The craftsmanship on display is better than most blockbusters, but the film generally avoids the deep political or familial drama that hides within the subject matter. Though we know the crash is coming, the cheeky performances and electrifying editing make the film a buoyant, well-crafted, and candy-coated Friday-night flick.
Chandler Ryd is a senior studying English.