Tuesday, October 17, 2017

MOVIE REVIEW/American Made
Laughing And Skylark, While Concealing The Real Story

Tom Cruise as Barry Seal in Doug Liman's comedy-adventure "American Made". 
Universal Pictures

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Doug Liman's comedy-drama "American Made" either parodies or satirizes the CIA's involvement in drug-running for Pablo Escobar or simply ignores the entire real story involving Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who worked for the CIA in the 1970s and 80s.  Mr. Seal (Tom Cruise) was assassinated, it should be said -- but the question is, by whom?  Mr. Liman, whose late father Arthur was special counsel to the U.S. senate probe via the Iran-Contra hearings, only suggests but goes no further.

Much of "American Made" is a triumph of razzle-dazzle style over substance, an exercise in evoking the 1980s without digging underneath its surface.  The director and its megastar are too busy clowning, caricaturizing and stereotyping Central Americans to be sincerely interested in telling an important story about U.S. government infiltration and crime.

The film appears to lampoon the stereotypical average American mentality and celebrate it.  There's a moment where a country on the world map is mislabelled and it produced a big laugh in the audience.  It's a telling audience reaction, one that speaks volumes -- until you recoil when thinking back to U.S. vice president Dan Quayle's misspelling "potatoe" in 1992, after an elementary school student had spelled the word correctly.

Schafer (Domhnall Gleason of "mother!") is the phantom CIA recruiter who convinces Barry to quit TWA and do the Agency's dirty work.  Before long, Barry is playing both sides against the middle and working for Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel too, making millions of dollars in the process while trying to deceive Lucy (Sarah Wright),  the woman he's married.  It's all risky business for a hired top gun who will soon be a cornered rat.  Mr. Cruise plays the role of Barry Seal with a sense of wide-eyed disbelief and manages to sustain the sense of glee.  He makes Mr. Seal a kid in a very large candy store, and as an actor Mr. Cruise makes the most of it.

Mr. Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli chronicle the self-effacing vanity that personnifies "American Made" and its star.  Close-ups of endless piles of money.  Close-ups of movie money man Mr. Cruise's teeth and face.  Close-ups of American taxpayer money at work through government action.  Close-ups of a mirror being held up to its audience?

In other words "American Made" is all about flaunting and taunting.  For better or worse "American Made" is a quintessentially American movie.  It connects fantasy, money, sex, drugs, ignorance, corruption, arrogance and hubris seamlessly.  The best way to describe Mr. Liman's film?  Disservice with a smile.  But it is clever disservice.  "American Made" is a slick, manipulative film where the punchline to the joke is its own audience. 

I almost admired the film's enabling and elusiveness of the "true lie" it doesn't quite completely tell.  There's a hollowness that makes Mr. Liman's film a bit more clever than it seems -- yet there's always emptiness at the core, even at the end, which comes suddenly.  When you can breezily mock American imperialism, low-intensity warfare and the Ronald Reagan Administration's own sense of self-interest, cynicism and paternalism, and not get a laugh at the latter from the audience I attended with you are somehow succeeding, or your film is playing over the heads of some.  Who knows?  ("Just say no," is one of the refrains from former U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan regarding drugs -- and I was the only one who audibly reacted to it.) 

The bottom line is, eye candy is still eye candy.  Except little about this cinematic candy tastes good.  A lesson on taste, good or bad, is a lesson that Barry Seal probably learned -- but he may have learned it too late.  Mr. Liman seems to make that point, and he sneaks up to it abruptly.

Also with: Alejandro Edda, Lola Kirke, Mauricio Meija, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons, Benito Martinez, E. Roger Mitchell, Jayma Mays, Robert Farrior.

"American Made" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.  The film's running time is one hour and 55 minutes.

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