- Product Rating -

American Made

| November 7, 2017

I was having a conversation the other day about whether or not satire works less when it’s tailored towards and made more accessible for mainstream audiences. In my eyes, nearly any sociopolitical topic when discussed with a wide-release film is going to softened to work for a larger audience, and American Made is a great example of that. Contrary to what it could and should have been, Doug Liman’s latest is a mess largely due to its rushed pacing that doesn’t allow time to develop or sharpen its intended themes or storytelling. It’s the type of movie that runs in an effort to keep its audience entertained, forgetting to pull its pieces together in the process and feeling muddy both narratively and visually.

The film tells the true story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) a former TWA pilot who becomes a drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, helping criminals such as Pablo Escobar (played here by Mauricio Mejía). It covers six years in less than two hours—is at least it tries to. Right out of the gate, American Made has its hands in the air and its throat unleashing a torrent of shouts and quasi-ironic giggles, almost as if Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli had to condense all of their ideas or simply cut out scenes outright. Relationships and peripheral characters are often times oversimplified and driven by caricatures instead of characters; supporting players such as Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, and Lola Kirke do what they can with what they’re given, but something tells me what we didn’t even get to see all that they tried to do.

It isn’t too often that I criticize movies for being too short, but a hyperactivity in filmmaking can often undermine otherwise potentially effective material. Both are the case here, and Liman, cinematographer César Charlone, and editors Saar Klein, Andrew Mondshein, and Dylan Tichenor can’t let their feet off of the gas. Liman’s pacing of an already-rocky script forces scenes to cruise along at autobahn speeds, populated with crash zooms, rough whip pans, and editing that makes many sequences lack flow. Several scenes are also shot with wildly different aesthetic choices, almost all of which are ugly to look at. Some parts of the film are piss-yellow while others look like they were shot through a coffee filter, and some moments just lack visual depth all together. This becomes increasingly apparent in the latter half of the film, and when it’s at its worst, American Made comes off as unaware of what its internal logic is supposed to be, either in terms of storytelling or aesthetics.

The saving grace here is often times Cruise himself, throwing a good ol’ boy variation of his brand of charisma into his character and, by effect, the film to varying degrees. The velocity of the filmmaking choices often prevent the movie from being boring, even though they do drastically undercut its merits in almost every other way. I would be lying if I said that American Made was dull. It isn’t—it just doesn’t know how to contain itself. It’s a film of ironic successes, not suffering from a crash because it never quite soars. It putts along, rough around the edges and unjustifiably confident in itself, like a rich guy wasted on cocaine.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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