In an age of celebrity saturation, the need for veteran stars to reinvent themselves in order to maintain ‘relevance’ is just as key as regular artistic output. And if a star can keep themselves ‘out there’ and therefore ‘up there’, all the while appealing to generations old-school and new, they’re pretty much worthy of supernova status.
Case in point: Tom Cruise. The guy is so cunning in his ability to remain relevant that audiences will temporarily dispel all that Scientology brouhaha and his previous media faux pas (remember the Oprah thing?) as we sit glued to the screen, enjoying his every other move.
In American Made, Cruise not only manages to reinvent but cleverly reinterprets some of the earlier symbols that helped make him a star. Once again he dons a pilot uniform and aviator shades a la Top Gun and A Few Good Men, bringing to mind a flood of flashbacks – but in American Made he is one bad, bad man. Ultimately, the cool costuming and high-flyer connotations work to maintain what Variety refers to as that “dateless elasticity of Cruise’s star power”.
Cruise plays the part of a commercial airline pilot who suddenly finds fast money can be made using his flying skills to cargo guns for the CIA and cocaine for Colombian drug lords. It’s all in a day’s work as his all-sides-of-the-law hustler Barry Seal flutters from country to country, picking up and delivering the contraband.
Seal is so confident and driven, he eventually sees his underground flight ring expanding to include a crew of unofficial pilots and extra-curricular jobs – all adding up to so much cash, he hardly has the space to hide it all.
The scenes in which tens of thousands of hundred dollar bills are falling out of cascading suitcases connote a similar decadent vibe as when Leonardo DiCaprio went hell-for-leather in The Wolf of Wall Street. And it’s no surprise the end-notes in both films are posited in that time in history, the start of the second half of the 1980s, where greed was considered ‘good’.
There’s a heck of a lot that happens in the two hours of American Made, and in the end it feels like you’ve been watching one long music video on MTV. Even though you’re aware of the outcome of the protagonist’s crimes – that it’ll all catch up with him in the end – you still feel you’re having an amazingly fun ride watching while he’s getting away with it.
Stylistically, the film stays true to its setting, without ever going over-the-top in aesthetic. Bellbottoms are not blown out of proportion in scenes set in the late 1970s, for example. Jargon isn’t all sleazy-like and slick, even though the action might be. Even the end credits abide by an analogue aesthetic, looking like having been CGI-ed badly over excessively dubbed video tape – as if these, too, were discovered in with the VHS footage found of Seal’s selfie-created confessions.
While American Made is based on real life occurrences, there is of course much extrapolation on what was truth. And while the fast and frivolous actions of Cruise’s Barry Seal seem so over-the-top that viewers might question their sincerity, enjoying the kaleidoscopic ride sees us forgiving the filmmakers’ regular resorting to poetic license.
No matter what genre of film you’re into – action, period, comedy or drama – you’ll find great doses of each in this movie. Which is why it’s sure to go gangbusters at the box office, and why once again Tom Cruise, like his multitude of fast-living characters, will continue to ‘get away with it’. If only just. Antonino Tati
‘American Made’ is in cinemas now.