There’s a game I like to play with new Tom Cruise movies. It’s called “How Old Does This Movie Think Tom Cruise Is?” It’s simple, all you have to do is watch a recent Tom Cruise movie and try and figure out how old he is supposed to be in that movie. (This game is made possible by the advent of digital beauty work, which allows actors to decide how many lines they want wiped off their faces in post-production. They won’t admit it, but pretty much everyone uses it. Some people use it a LOT.) For instance, this week I saw Tom Cruise’s new movie, American Made. At the time of production, Cruise was 54 years old. In the movie, he looks anywhere from 35-42 years old. So my guess is: American Made thinks Tom Cruise is 39 years old.
Was I so profoundly bored watching American Made that I played this guessing game in order to stay awake? Actually no. American Made is pretty entertaining. It’s just so f*cking distracting that Cruise looks younger now than he did ten years ago. But once you get over the mental distortion of Cruise’s progressively less-lined face, American Made isn’t half bad. Cruise is too dedicated, too professional, and yes, too talented to drop the ball, and American Made plays to his strengths. He stars as Barry Seal, a real life figure caught up in the drug trade in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Barry is cocky, brash, reckless, sly, a little scuzzy but in a charming way, immediately beloved by everyone who meets him, and he’s the most super bestest pilot in the world. In other words, Barry Seal is a patented Tom Cruise character.
Made traces Barry’s rise from TWA pilot to favored smuggler of the Medellin cartel and bag man for the CIA. See, Barry is running Cuban cigars through his TWA routes, which brings him to the attention of Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), a CIA agent looking for someone to ferry guns into Central America. But the CIA doesn’t pay very much, so pretty soon Barry is smuggling cocaine for Pablo Escobar, and then eventually siphoning guns from the CIA to Escobar, too. And then he’s rolling in so much cash he literally has nowhere to put it, and all of this is presented as a grand adventure and Barry is a super cool guy who just got caught up in the challenge and fun of it all, and no one thinks too hard about the fact that the hero of our story—and Barry is very much framed as a hero—is a gun runner and drug smuggler. It’s a rags to riches tale of the “only in America” variety.
Though the movie is pretty fun, it does have some problems. It drags a little, and while both Jesse Plemons and Caleb Landry Jones are in it, both are wasted, and only have one short scene together. Jones plays Barry’s idiot brother-in-law who sets in motion the events that trigger the third act unraveling, and Plemons stars as the local sheriff who is oblivious to Barry’s activities. It feels like a subplot got cut that would have made more of his role, especially since Lola Kirke is on board as his smart wife, but she vanishes after one scene. And it’s not actually a problem for the movie, though it might be an issue for Tom Cruise, but Domhnall Gleeson is so goddamn great every time he’s on screen, he actually manages to pull focus from Cruise. (On a more serious note, during production a plane crashed, killing two pilots and injuring a third.)
American Made isn’t great, but it isn’t bad. It’s pretty okay. Cruise has his schtick down pat, and this is a very Tom Cruise performance in a very Tom Cruise role. And there’s bonus Domhnall Gleeson and a mini-FNL reunion. With all the daring feats of aviation, it’s hard not to think about the pilots who died and the other who was seriously injured. And you have to forcibly remind yourself that Barry Seal isn’t the cool dude the movie thinks he is. But the movie itself is mostly enjoyable, only slightly too long, and classic Tom Cruise Being Tom Cruise. And hey, it’s great for a round of How Old Does This Movie Think Tom Cruise Is.