While Tom Cruise is most of the show in American Made, it’s not a star vehicle. Star vehicle suggests it’s got somewhere to take him. Made exists because of Cruise’s likable performance, not the other way around. Thanks to that likability, he even gets away with an eighties TV “Louisiana” accent. The film also avoids putting an age on Cruise’s character—real-life person Barry Seal was thirty-nine when the movie starts, while Cruise (here in his mid-fifties) can play thirty-nine, mentioning it might get audience members doing math and distract from the fun.
Made’s just fun. Based on the true story of an airline pilot who went to run drugs and guns for the CIA and Pablo Escobar, the film’s a hand-held period piece action crime comedy. Most of the action’s in the first and second acts before Cruise becomes an Arkansas land baron. His CIA handler (an okay but bland Domhnall Gleeson) wants a spot to train the Contras in the U.S.; near Cruise’s private airstrip makes perfect sense since he’s bringing them into the country anyway.
The film avoids all the logistics of Cruise’s operation. If Made’s accurate, anyone with a plane can fly in and out of the U.S., avoiding detection by flying low—the plane photography in Made’s excellent and only occasionally obviously CGI—no filed flight plans, no FAA, no nothing. So who’s lying to us, “Wings” or Made?
Also, getting into the minutiae would cut down on the fun. Director Liman and star Cruise are sure Made is going to be a lot of fun, as Cruise gets favors from a certain Arkansas governor, hangs out with Ollie North and Manuel Noriega, all while avoiding Cruise and Wright’s kids to the point their names and number aren’t necessary. They start with one or two and end up with at least three, but it could be four. Wright’s okay when the movie’s got something for her to do, which isn’t often. Not even after her deadbeat little brother (an okay but bland Caleb Landry Jones) shows up and starts bringing about Cruise’s downfall because he’s a dumb redneck.
There are a lot of Confederate flags in Made and Cruise’s definitely a Johnny Reb, along with all his team of pilots, and the soundtrack’s almost entirely “Country Rock before they started wearing the hoods on stage” classics. We wouldn’t know if anyone was actively racist or bigoty because there aren’t anything but white people in the movie. Cruise has a cute scene with a Black kid at one point, and it’s like someone realized they needed to clarify.
Speaking of the other pilots… while William Mark McCullough is the only one to get any real scenes outside montage or long-shot, I swear one of them is John Glover, but he’s not credited anywhere. IMDb’s missing the character (they’re called “Snowbirds,” which sounds like a Bond villain’s all-female killer ski bunny squad, and there’s no “Snowbird #3,” who’d be Glover).
American Made’s well-produced, with always okay direction from Liman. César Charlone’s photography is occasionally too “DV,” particularly in the cockpit shots, but never bad. Editor Andrew Mondshein does a fine job with the innumerable entertaining montage sequences. Made’s fine and fun, with a delightful Cruise lead performance, but it’s entirely fluff.