The more you know about the connections between cocaine, the CIA and Central America in the early 1980s, the less fascinating American Made, Doug Liman’s contribution to the Coke-Dealer-In-Peril sub-genre, will be to you. If you know very little, the true subject matter alone will blow your mind. But even if you’ve hoovered up Cocaine Cowboys, Blow, GoodFellas, Narcos and Scarface, and know your Contras from your Sandinistas and your DEA from your ATF, you’ll still likely be entertained by the giddy tale of Barry Seal, a commercial pilot who was recruited by the CIA to take photos of commies and ended up – well, pretty much a drug kingpin.
If Barry ever got high on his own supply, that’s not in the film. Barry is played – brilliantly, a word I’m surprised and delighted to use – by Tom Cruise, and as such, his sins are leveraged. Ambitious, corruptible, slightly dim, morally obscure? Check. Drug-taking, womanising, knowingly criminal? Nope. Barry is your likeable drug trafficker, which has become an indispensable ingredient of this type of movie, along with a rise and fall, voice-over narration, freeze-frames, animated or otherwise explanatory sequences, and archive footage, generally of Ronald Reagan, Oliver North and George Bush Snr.
It’s a little surprising how readily Doug Liman embraces all of these tropes, essentially making a cookie-cutter cocaine movie. He will win no points at all here for originality or freshness, both qualities applied to him ever since Swingers (1996). Frankly, his film feels – and is – derivative, even redundant. But he’s got Cruise, and Cruise delivers, in a way he hasn’t since – perhaps – Liman’s own Edge of Tomorrow (2014), but, honestly, since Jerry Maguire back in 1996. It’s something I thought I’d never get to say again: Tom Cruise makes the movie, and is the reason to see it.