People who know me know I have strong feelings about Tom Cruise, and I don’t mind sharing them. In the grocery store or on the bike trail, shortly after puking on your carpet and before blaming your cat, I will let you know what I think of Tom Fucking Cruise.
What do I think of Tom Cruise? Let me tell you. I don’t have much of an opinion one way or the other. And I feel strongly that way. There, I said it.
I have never said, “Oh, that movie’s got Tom Cruise in it; let’s go see it.” More likely, I say, “It’s got Tom Cruise in it, so we know what that shit’s about.” There have been a few movies I thought were okay, like Magnolia and Rain Man, and then there’s the shit, like The Mummy and Cocktail, that sucked donkey dong for nickels. But overall, I just don’t give a fuck one way or the other about Tom Cruise, and I’m not afraid to say it. Loud and repeatedly.
Usually, Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise, a gum-chomping, toothy cocksure dude who rescues ladies and does manly shit like ride motorcycles, race cars and fly planes. It’s as though he in a two-front battle against the forces that question his height and sexuality. He’s a real man, dammit! He does tough-guy shit. He probably even talks about doing his own stunts.
In that sense, American Made is a Tom Cruise movie. He flies planes, gets shot at, humps a hot wife, and shows us more teeth than a frightened baboon. He’s a fucking hero, or at least the focus of a movie which confuses heroism with doing ballsy shit for money.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, a real-life scumbag, reinvented by Hollywood as a smiley raconteur. In real life, Seal was a TWA pilot who got fired after being caught smuggling plastic explosives into Mexico. He later smuggled cocaine for the Medellin cartel and, when caught, turned into an informant for the DEA to keep his ass out of jail, smuggled guns to the contras, and was a generally amoral fuck whose actions reverberated with horrible consequences for America. He was eventually shot by cartel gunmen.
In American Made, Hollywood has turned Seal into what apparently passes these days for an American hero: a money-grubbing asshole oblivious to the impact of his poor choices. Seriously, when the fuck did we allow assholes to be likable just because they make money? But that’s exactly what’s at play here: Barry Seal is an obscenely rich asshole, and the movie tries about as hard to make him likable as I did in making my high-school solar system mobile. I got a D.
Seal smuggles drugs, guns, screws the government, all while getting rich. With each action, he digs a deeper hole for himself. First staking pictures for the government, then smuggling drugs, then guns and drugs, then hiring more smugglers, then smuggling soldiers, on and on. At no point does Seal stop to wonder if what he’s doing is good for anyone else?
Yet, the movie wants us to care about him. How fucking hard would it have been to make him just a tiny bit conflicted? To make him relatable to anyone with a spine?
Cruise’s Seal just keep smiling. He comes across like an above-ground pool salesman. The sort of asshole who just keeps smiling while he’s figuring out the best way to fuck you on price.
Instead of thoughtfulness, American Made moves along at a speedy clip, like that pool salesman going over the fine print in the liability waiver. Never mind drowning or the parasites that can live in unkempt pool water, just keep thinking about the fun you’ll have. Cruise grins, Cruise flies. Drugs are smuggled, millions in cash is buried in backyards and closets, laughs are had. Wheee!
The problem here is that director Doug Liman paces American Made specifically to make it seem like a joy ride. It’s like he’s stealing a car and driving it through a shopping mall full of disabled veterans on their day out. Focus on the speed, count the bodies later. Why call it “true” when you gloss over the real consequences and put nothing more at stake than keeping Cruise’s Barry Seal out of jail. The price of all Liman’s speed is there is no real human story, no connection to Seal, and Seal isn’t interesting enough. Sure, he gets into some kooky antics, but he’s a dullard with a dumb grin. It’s easier to feel sorry for the victims. Even if the movie doesn’t give us many of them, we already know there are plenty when dealing with Pablo Escobar and the CIA. When Seal gets shot in the head, it signals the end of the movie, but not much else. It was inevitable and deserved, like getting a stomach ache from eating too much of your wife’s candy-colored lipstick.
American Made kills time. It means nothing, and it’s Hollywood turning assholes into hollow entertainment. In other words, it’s what they do well. Two Fingers.