Tom Cruise trashes his flashing-teeth hero image to play, if not a bad guy, then certainly a naughty one in the jaunty drug-running caper American Made.
Re-teaming with his Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live Die Repeat) director Doug Liman, Cruise plays Barry Seal, a real-life character who ran drugs, guns and money between Central America and Arkansas in the late 1970s and early 80s, while also working for the CIA.
Seal, a family man who started out as a pilot for TWA, eventually became embroiled in what blew up into the Iran-Contra scandal, as well as being a trusted delivery boy for the Medellin cocaine cartel lead by Pablo Escobar. He also earned himself millions of dollars in cash for his troubles.
Watch Video: Tom Cruise Is Back to Flying Planes in 'American Made' Trailer
Cruise slips into the role with a mischievous grin, although hes not exactly playing totally against type the way he did in, say, Magnolia. The idea is that his Barry is a slippery customer and a great pilot, more son-of-a-gun than Top Gun. With the first of several nods to Goodfellas, Cruise narrates the movie himself, although his to-camera testimonies are designed, we learn later, to incriminate his various employers.
Barry initially stumbles into the part but like a good American opportunist, he learns to game the system, using his CIA-sanctioned cover to become the gringo who delivers for Escobar and his henchmen. He comes home with suitcases stuffed so full of cash the green stuff practically falls out of the bedroom closets.
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As director, Liman (whose father investigated the Iran-Contra affair) has covered the shaky moral ground of Langley in his Bourne franchise, and hes at it again here, while also trying to cram in and explain away some real political history. The film features three U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and, as Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, as well as figures such as Oliver North and General Noriega. Even Nancy Reagan pops up to tell us again: Just Say No.
Liman is to be commended on not stooping to a mere 80s nostalgia fest, at least not too ironically (he offers a Rubiks Cube and couple of power ballads but, hey, everyone needs context), using the Cold War politics of the time rather than any awkward fashions or pop. I wonder, though, if he was tempted to show someone watching an early Brat Pack movie on VHS?
The problem is that Cruise, even when trying to cut loose, is always so tightly controlled that we never truly feel the reptilian survivalism of Barry Seal, nor does it feel like anyone on screen is actually enjoying themselves despite the repeated tequila parties and mountains of cash.
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Earlyish in the picture, when Barry finds himself in a Colombian jail following a police raid, theres a bit of business around him having a tooth knocked out, a clear indication that Cruise knows hes denting his trademark choppers here. Interestingly, the movie never suggests Seal (or any of his pilot cohorts) got high on their own supply; he may want to play with his image, but dont think for a minute youll catch Tom Cruise snorting coke.
Limans tone, channelled through Cruise gently straining to deconstruct his own iconography, achieves neither real comedy nor actual tension. The movie feels lightweight, even while pointing fingers at the American governments meddling foreign policy and lies. The sense of the eras political absurdity goes missing. Maybe politics, no matter how ridiculous or how distant, just isnt a laughing matter any more.
Strangely, for a Cruise vehicle, American Made takes a while to get going, and, having never quite started, it doesnt really know when to finish. Theres a terrific climax involving the CIA, DEA, FBI and a bunch of other acronymical forces except it isnt the climax, and the movie drags on for quite a while after, forgetting that we really dont care much for the underwritten storyline of Barrys family and his wife Lucy, gamely played by Sarah Wright (Marry Me) in that increasingly thankless position of girl in Tom Cruise movie.
American Made isnt exactly an American Dud, but it is too self-conscious to be as fun as it wants to be. Its professional, slick and not terrible, as youd expect from, well, slick professionals such as Liman and Cruise. It looks vibrant and verdant (shot by Uruguayan DP Cesar Chalone, who did City of God), but for the gringo movie star who always delivers, it comes up a little short.
Tom Cruise wasn't "Born on the 4th of July," but he was close. The actor turned 55 Monday. We ranked hisfilms, from the so-so to the phenomenal.
Cruise's Type-A, adrenaline-fueled drive serves him very well in movies where the stakes are high. But Cocktail is just "Top Gun" behind a bar. The work-hard play-hard clichs at work here threatened to make Cruise the role model for handsome, affable, lame guys you swipe past on dating apps. Cruise smartly swiped away from roles like this.
40. "Endless Love"
Tom Cruise has a tiny partin this Brooke Shields melodrama, his first ever on-screen role. He stumbles off a soccer field, goes shirtlessand shares a story with the protagonist about how he almost burned his house down. You were probably sold at "goes shirtless."
Whats sillier: Tom Cruises unicorn or his hair? Legend was a lavish, fantastical adventure that turned out to be a massive box-office misfire from director Ridley Scott and Cruise.
38. "Austin Powers in Goldmember"
Cruise makes an amusing cameo as Austin Powers in a fake trailer for a movie-within-the-movie called Austinpussy. But this opening to the third Austin Powers is its only highlight.
37. "Far and Away"
Ron Howard directs Cruise and his then-partner Nicole Kidman in this romance between a wealthy landlords daughter and a poor Irish street fighter.Cruise's accent isn't great.
36. "Knight and Day"
Wacky, screwball action-comedies almost never work, and in James Mangolds Knight and Day, Cruise and Cameron Diaz werent exactly Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade." But the movie has its passionate fans.
35. "Interview With a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles"
This is probably the movie where you're most aware Cruise is acting. After all, hes playing a vampire. This showy, flashy role wouldve been better suited for someone like Johnny Depp. Cruises Lestat doesn't feel as hungry as most Tom Cruise characters, just thirsty. For blood.
34. "Losin' It"
Thankfully Cruise graduated from 80s teen sex-romps like this, but Curtis Hansons Losin It has some charm with Cruise running through Tijuana with a young Jackie Earle Haley, John Stockwell and a housewife played by Shelley Long.
33. "Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back"
The sequel to Jack Reacher was a rare, mediocre step back for Cruise.
32. "Rock of Ages"
Cruise doing his best Axl Rose impression as the rock-god Stacee Jaxx is the best part of this cute, harmless stage adaptation. He commits.
31. "The Outsiders"
Francis Ford Coppolas The Outsiders wasnt well reviewed at its time, but its a great time capsule of Cruise in a small part of a gang of other teen heartthrobs of the day, including Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. Many who grew u with it consider it a classic.
30. "All the Right Moves"
In one of theearly teen roles that would define his hard-driving persona, Cruise contends with a football coach played by Craig T. Nelson in a classicandwell-meaning but clichd sports movie.
29. "Days of Thunder"
Its Top Gun on wheels, with Tony Scott reuniting with Cruise as an up-and-coming racecar driver and pairing him for the first time with Nicole Kidman, as well as Robert Duvall. But by this point Cruise had already played the young hot shot too many times.
28. "Lions for Lambs"
Robert Redford aimed for intellectual pedigree with his political drama starring Cruise and Meryl Streep, but it mostly high-minded, overly-polished lecturing.
Cruise plays a German officer who conspired to assassinate Hitler and assume power. We all know how that went. Thankfully, Cruise doesnt belabor a phony German accent, but Bryan Singers drama is mostly historical set dressing.
In just his second on-screen role, Cruise plays an unhinged military cadet who goes to extreme lengths to protect the academy when its threatened by encroaching condo developers. He almost steals the show from George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton and a young Sean Penn.
25. "Vanilla Sky"
Vanilla Sky contains a risky, very underrated Cruise role. Cruise goes from playing the cocky, unstoppable Cruise archetype to a deformed, defeated man trying to figure out what matters. Cameron Crowes remake of a Spanish-language film shifts genres stunningly, and its proved a polarizing movie in both Cruise and Crowes catalog.
24. "The Mummy"
From TheWrap's review: "Its the same loud, excessive strain of blockbuster thats cursing multiplexes, barely qualifying as horror, adventure, fantasy, thriller, or even Tom Cruise vehicle."
23. "The Last Samurai"
John Oliver has made The Last Samurai infamous as a prime example of Hollywoods Asian whitewashing. But Cruise is good enough to make it almost work. Its a solid samurai epic with Cruise fighting out of his element, playing an American Civil War official overseas as a dynasty comes to an end.
22. "Mission: Impossible II"
John Woos hyper-stylized sequel has Cruise free-hand scaling a massive, remote cliff, only to put on a pair of sunglasses and watch them explode. It all feels very '90s.
21. "Mission: Impossible III"
J.J. Abrams was brought in to reboot the franchise, so to speak, and he brought his signature lens flares, humor and gritty realism to the property. The films high point isnt Cruise, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the villain.
20. "The Firm"
Tom Cruise + John Grisham + Gene Hackman + Sydney Pollack? The Firm shouldve been a slam dunk, but its not even Cruises best courtroom drama.
Joseph Kosinskis Oblivion is visually stunning and finds Cruise tidying up Earth after the battle for humanity has ended and the planet has been evacuated. The sci-fi premise has promise but loses steam as some of the Morgan Freeman-delivered twists and parables start to come out.
18. "Jack Reacher"
Lee Child described Jack Reacher in his book as being 6 foot 5 inches tall, up to 250 pounds and having a 50-inch chest. That aint Tom Cruise. But Christopher McQuarrie extracts from Cruise a grizzled, angry action hero. Plus having Werner Herzog as your movies villain doesnt hurt.
17. "The Color of Money"
This was the movie that won Paul Newman his Oscar, a swan-song sequel to The Hustler by Martin Scorsese in which Cruise may as well be type-cast as the new arrogant upstart. But Cruise captivates with that infectious, cocky glint in his eye as he whips his cue around, knocking em dead to the tune of Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon.
16. "Tropic Thunder"
Cruise is hilariously unrecognizable beneath a balding wig, caked on makeup and some added pounds as Les Grossman, a raging, foul-mouthed studio exec. His fuming anger and profanity in this cameo makes him a pimple ready to burst, and his best dialogue isnt even fit to print.
15. "Rain Man"
Rain Man may actually be one of the more overrated Best Picture winners. Barry Levinsons film is just a road trip movie with a showy Dustin Hoffman performance at its center. And yet Cruise revealed an untapped tender side.
14. "War of the Worlds"
Critics were torn as to whether Cruise made a convincing father figure in Steven Spielbergs adaptation of the famous H.G. Wells story, but thehuman element elevated this already tense sci-fi thriller.
13. "Mission: Impossible"
The original Mission: Impossible benefits from Brian De Palmas homages to Hitchcock and other spy genre films, includingloopy twists and laughably great gadgets that explode fish tanks or transform peoples faces. But its rightfully famous for Cruises balletic, expertly executed heist as he dangles from the ceiling and tries not to break a sweat.
12. "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"
Five movies into the franchise, and Christopher McQuarries film was the first that suggested a future for this franchise beyond Cruise, taking the best elements of each subsequent M:I film and making them gel. It culminates in a slick assassination inside an opera and a standout new foil for Cruise in Rebecca Ferguson. And Cruise is just awesome in it.
Cruise never gets to play the bad guy, but hes excellent at it. Michael Mann transformed Cruise into a mysterious silver fox and silent killer, toying with his hostage Jamie Foxxs mind and morality until the two form an unexpected bond.
10. "Top Gun"
Thirtyyears later and we still feel the need for speed. Theres still no better popcorn movie that flaunts 80s nostalgia, jingoistic Americana and hyper-masculinity than Top Gun. Plus that gloriously homoerotic volleyball scene.
9. "Risky Business"
When Tom Cruise slid across that wood floor in his underwear and a white dress shirt to the opening riff of Old Time Rock and Roll, that was it; a star was born. The movie as a whole channels everything that made Cruise a star, includinghis hot-shot attitude and smirking charm. But he alsosubverts and challenges other teen films.
8. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"
Brad Bird brought some of the cartoonish charm from Pixar over to the fourth M:I film, but he also staged one of the best action set pieces of this century. Yes, that really was Cruise dangling off the side of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, and it paid off.
7. "Edge of Tomorrow"
Edge of Tomorrow is the kind of action movie that reminds you why Cruise is so reliable in his heroic roles. Cruise plays a captain in this sci-fi who sells a war to the public, but is privately a coward. When hes killed in battle and brought back to life in an endless vicious cycle played for pathos and some laughs, he regains composure. Emily Blunt gives a fantastic, hard-edged performance as well.
6. "A Few Good Men"
Cruise displays youthful goodness, decency and spirit in the face of juggernaut Jack Nicholson. "A Few Good Men" hasexactly the sort of rousing emotion Hollywood needs to tap into again to find morehit dramas for adults.
5. "Eyes Wide Shut"
All anyone wanted to talk about with Stanley Kubricks final film was the chemistry between Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman, or the lack thereof. But that icy demeanor in what presents itself as an erotic romance amplified the surreal mystery of the film and made Cruise vulnerable and human.
4. "Jerry Maguire"
The quintessential rom-com, Jerry Maguire is timeless yet also perfectly '90s. Cameron Crowes endlessly quotable screenplay wouldnt be quite the same without Cruises comic timing as he bellows Show Me the Money and lampoons his own hot-shot persona.
3. "Born on the Fourth of July"
As a crippled war vet in Oliver Stones Vietnam drama, Cruise turns from a starry-eyed, clean-cut soldier to a vocal, harried Vietnam protestor. Its a rebuke to the blind patriotism flaunted in Cruises own Top Gun and is one of Stones best films.
2. "Minority Report"
Steven Spielbergs sci-fi has aged beautifully, in part because Silicon Valley has borrowed so muchfrom it. Cruise looks so cool manipulating video in the Pre-Cog crime lab, he practically invented touch screens. Spielberg bakes endlessfun and invigorating, futuristic chase sequences into a screenplay that contemplates big questions of fate and free will.
Not only is this Paul Thomas Andersons magnum-opus, an epic, surreal character drama of love, family and the meaning of life, its Cruise at his most unhinged and commanding. He plays a vile, lascivious mens right advocate named Frank T.J. Mackey, whose mantra isrespect the cock. Cruise made it possible to dislike, even loathe one of his characters, and yet hes chillinglycharismatic.
Happy 55th birthday, Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise wasn't "Born on the 4th of July," but he was close. The actor turned 55 Monday. We ranked hisfilms, from the so-so to the phenomenal.
'American Made' Review: Tom Cruise Flies Between Comedy and Tension, Missing Both - TheWrap