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What’s up everybody? I’m Joe Baress and this is Five Minutes in the Film Room.
Doug Liman is a director that doesn’t really get the credit he deserves and sneakily makes some pretty great films. The Bourne franchise is usually credited to director Paul Greengrass, but Liman was the one who kicked it off with 2002’s The Bourne Identity, which some still see as the best in the franchise.
2014’s Edge of Tomorrow had the worst marketing campaign of all time that didn’t capture the tone of the film. The title also made it seem like a soap opera so for home video release it was changed to Live. Die. Repeat. But the marketing did not speak to the quality of the movie that shocked audiences, including myself, and sparked a future sequel. And as the credits rolled, a familiar name popped up as the director, Doug Liman. It also starred Tom Cruise.
Cruise and Liman clearly enjoyed working together because they decided to team up for American Made. But could they carry over the success? … Let’s go to the tape.
American Made is based on the true story of the life of Barry Seal, a pilot turned CIA agent who used his connections to aid a drug cartel and make a whole lot of money. I didn’t know anything about Seal so I was fascinated to learn the history, which is told through the eyes of Seal, played by Tom Cruise. Now, it definitely takes liberties with the true story, but not so much in an off-the-wall way. It acknowledges certain conspiracy theories without stating them as fact. The tone of the film is airtight. After seeing a few films that have had severe tonal issues, it was refreshing to see one that nails what it’s trying to accomplish.
I compare American Made to The Big Short in that it perfectly balances humor with drama, which allows the movie to progress quickly and never lose its excitement. Because it is told from the perspective of Seal, what he does it glorified, but not in a negative way. It fits because it showed the bombastic nature of what he felt he was doing, and staying away from the repercussions of his acts. It kept the movie focused and fun.
No matter what you think of Tom Cruise off the big screen, it’s difficult to deny how great he is as an actor and how devoted he is to his characters. American Made is no different as Seal is a perfect role for Cruise. He’s played an arrogant pilot before with great success.
Domhnall Gleeson keeps popping up in things and he never disappoints. In American Made, he plays a member of the CIA who recruits Seal and serves as his boss. I’m always impressed when someone can be charming and act like they’re your best friend, but still show their authority. Gleeson does that perfectly here.
Sarah Wright also puts in a good performance as Seal’s wife.
The way the story is handled shows the experience of those involved. American Made could have easily turned into a Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain, with the comedy not quite fitting and more so just making you uncomfortable. That’s why when you need the craft of a veteran director you don’t get, ya know, Michael Bay.
The way Liman interweaves Seal narrating the story through a camcorder in the 80s and moves through seven or eight years of Seal’s life spending the perfect amount of time on each act is incredible. He knew what he was doing. I don’t have a flaw in the film. The execution is impeccable.
THE BOTTOM LINE
American Made is another solid outing from Doug Liman, which we should come to expect by now. His second team up with Tom Cruise worked as Cruise captured a role we all knew he could knock out of the park based on his extensive filmography. The tone is perfect as the comedy lands, but the movie remains intense. It tells a story about a man in history, but isn’t shown as a biopic, which makes the movie a lot of fun. I find it difficult to find a flaw in the film. I don’t know how memorable it will be, but American Made will serve as another very good film from the veteran director who is still making quality films 21 years after his first hit. Maybe audiences will forget what he’s capable of again and he’ll continue to fly under the radar until his next movie. And when you look at his IMDB page and see American Made next to The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow and Swingers, you’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, he directed that too.’
I’ll rank American Made as Frank Gore. He’s a great running back that flies under the radar who still has a place in the NFL at age 34 and has shown consistency throughout his career. His career rushing-yard total is up there with the greats. Did you know Gore is eighth all time? And could be fifth by season’s end? I’m sure you recognize all the names above him, Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. All Hall of Famers. Gore sounds quite a bit like American Made and Doug Liman to me.