' ' Cinema Romantico: American Made

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

American Made

In “American Made”, as Barry Seal, the real-life TWA pilot who struck it rich by smuggling drugs for the infamous Medellin Cartel before turning DEA informant, Tom Cruise is getting his brand of high. The movie, in fact, is jump-started by the actor’s cackle. If Seal is initially presented as so bored by the passenger flight routine that he slyly finagles his jetliner off auto pilot to fly it manually, we also quickly learn that he is smuggling Cuban cigars into the U.S., communicating his willingness to even flout the law to have fun. The latter is what prompts the CIA’s Monty Schaefer (Domhnall Gleeson) to seek out Seal in a sequence where the pilot’s bright white uniform pops against the icy blue of the club where he’s hanging, painting him as some sinister white knight. Even as Seal denies smuggling, he can’t stop smiling, like he wants to get a caught because maybe that will lead to some action. It does, in the form of a little reconnaissance flying over various central American countries to snap intelligence photos. Why he’s doing this, Seal addresses in voiceover, though Cruises’s aw-shucks speaking voice debunks any sense of intellectual analysis. That sensation is futhered when Seal first sees his spy plane and, smiling, cackling, caresses it. He gets a scene of zero gravity sex a little later, yes, but this is his real love scene.

In the context of “American Made”, Seal becomes something like a Reagan era Zelig, as he graduates to courier for Manuel Noriega and both running guns to the Nicaraguan contras and providing space on a lavish Arkansas estate gifted to him, with strings attached, by the CIA to help train the Contras, never mind that he smuggles drugs for Pablo Escobar too. Director Doug Liman’s film plays loose and easy with the facts, some real, some exaggerated, some fabricated, not that any of this really matters, particularly given the film’s pace, which is ferocious, utilizing pop-song accentuated montages several times, approximating its leading man’s air and his character’s golly-gee willikers, damn the torpedoes mindset. “What’d you think, son?” Gene Hackman asked Denzel Washington in “Crimson Tide.” “I was just some crazy old coot putting everyone in harm’s way as I yell ‘yee-haw?’” “That was not my first thought, sir,” Washington replies. But that’s basically what this Barry Seal is – a crazy old(ish) coot putting everyone, including his wife and kids, whose attitudes toward their husband and father’s intensely illegal activities are hardly lingered over, in harm’s way as he yells yee-haw.

The frenetic speed of the narrative is properly recounted in an equally frenetic handheld camera and wild photography, virtue of César Charlone, that, in tandem with Cruise’s nigh omnipresent grin, is the most rememberable element of the film. The colors in this movie are unyieldingly oversaturated, almost to the point of absurdity, where everything, not just sequences of Barry living the high life, from muddy rivers in South American jungles to the otherwise mundane home of the local sheriff of the small Arkansas town where Barry re-locates his family, are rendered in gaudy hues. This is not the late Tony Scott's preferred method, mind you, where his super saturation sought to convey a granular vérité. No, if Barry's recurring voiceover stokes the notion of a tall tale being told then these colors elicit the notion of an accompanying photobook being flipped through, each picture snapped in Kodachrome.

That also leaves one wondering what to make of the character’s very grave and real misdeeds, and unfortunately, “American Made” is conspicuously un-enlightening, just another in a long line of “Goodfellas” wannabes. “Goodfellas” glamorized, absolutely, and it glorified, assuredly, but it also let its principal character suffer the worst fate possible in accordance with his own established rules and let most of the rest of its characters get kicked in the teeth. Barry gets kicked in the teeth too, literally, but swiftly recovers, hardly worse for wear, and keeps right on going. It’s why this movie has no choice but to end as abruptly as it does – otherwise, Cruise never would’ve stopped cackling.

No comments: