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The last time I watched Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, I was left unimpressed. Upon reflection, it seems like he's taking on more dramatic fare which is nice. And while American Made came and went with a whimper, there was actually some good words said about it apparently, which brings us to this point.
Directed by Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow) from a script that Gary Spinelli (Stash House) wrote, the film tells the story of Barry Seal (Cruise). Seal was an accomplished pilot early in his life and was working for TWA in his early ‘30s. He was approached by a mysterious CIA representative named Shafer (Domhnall Gleason, Frank) that offers him the chance to fly missions for him to Central and South America and photograph the training grounds down there. It doesn't prove to be a money-making venture, and when the Medellin cartel (including Pablo Escobar) give him a wealthy offer, he can't turn that money down.
Seal was a real-life figure in the drug wars and apparently had a role in the Iran-Contra affair and this is not the first time his life has been portrayed onscreen (Dennis Hopper played Seal in the early ‘90s HBO film Doublecrossed), though American Made appears to be the first film that included the rights to Seal's story by his third wife (played in the film by Sarah Wright, Walk of Shame), despite legal opposition by another member of Seal's family and administrator of his estate. And it tries to balance a tightrope of dark comedy, drama and Goodfellas-type indoctrination into the crime world.
And in the first couple of acts it works to engaging detail. The film could easily have relied on Cruise and his charisma over the course of its two hours, and while he does a LOT of smiling to remind you that he's Tom Cruise, the story keeps this at arm's length so it can focus on telling Seal's crazy story, which pulls you in immediately and keeps you close for most of it. Cruise brings a mix of braggadocio and understated vulnerability to the role, and when Seal's enterprise becomes one that is beyond his grasp, the helplessness of Barry on what to do next is evident. All the while he tries to balance a family life futilely along with the demands of several different masters, either Shafer, the drug lords, etc. When Seal is finally caught, it is a law enforcement fire drill, with multiple entities simultaneously trying to apprehend him.
While most of American Made focuses on the events, as the film goes on it seems to forget the emotional connection to make to viewers. Unless the film is intended to show Seal as a bad guy with a last minute remorse reprieve, there's no other way the film tries to make itself more accessible to a viewer. It's not to say that it's a disappointing film; I think Cruise turns in some of his more well-rounded work in quite some time, it's just a good film rather than a great one.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation of American Made throws a LOT at the viewer; you get gritty black and white stills, animated pieces showing the American-Russian tension in central America, color corrected footage of a Nicaraguan landing, 4:3 self-shot home video footage of Seal's ‘confessions,' newsreel footage, etc. When colors do get a chance to show off they are good, flesh tones are fine though the image does suffer from occasional softness. The fly by the seat of your pants (pun intended) nature of the story is conveyed well in the image.The Sound:
Universal gives the film a DTS X soundtrack which sounds fantastic throughout. Dialogue is well-balanced through the film but the real highlights early and often are the flight sounds rumbling through the subwoofer in landings, takeoffs and crashes, or through the channels in the midst of panning. Explosions and gunfire are also well-placed and sound clean and effective, and the ample music through the film sounds clear as can be. This is one of the best lossless soundtracks in my recent memory and definitely one to showcase your home theater setup.Extras:
There are a half dozen features running about 5-6 minutes each in length that serve as the package. Six deleted scenes (9:56) include an earlier moment when Cruise meets the local sheriff (Jesse Plemons, Battleship), but past that little of note. "American Storytellers" (6:39) discuss the shoot Liman runs, and Liman and the crew discuss their ideas of the story. "A Conversation" (5:25) between Liman and Cruise devolves into a funny back and forth on their fridge food and cleaning habits, while "In the Wings" is more about the shoot from the cast side of things. "Shooting American Made" (4:16) is Liman-centric on the production and "Flying High (4:50) looks at Seal's flying history and Cruise's general aviation acumen. "The Real Barry Seal" (5:51) includes thoughts, photos and video on the man from his youngest son.Final Thoughts:
Sure, American Made dropped off the radar with lightning speed at the box office, but now that it's on video you get a perfect soundtrack, good presentation and a surprisingly engaging story with one of Tom Cruise's better performances in some time. It would have been nice to have Liman and Cruise team up for a commentary track or something, but there's enough here (and hell, it's winter) that it's definitely worth your time to watch.