Newly released film “American Made” sells excess and luxury, but it has little to offer under its surface.
“American Made” is based on the true story of Barry Seal, a talented TWA airline pilot who is bored with his current job. Seal, played by Tom Cruise, is approached at a hotel by “Schafer,” a mysterious CIA agent played by Domhnall Gleeson. Schafer offers Seal a new job as a surveillance pilot for the CIA that requires him to fly over Latin America to take pictures of communist insurgents. Seal takes the offer and uses the job as an opportunity to start a drug smuggling business in which he transports thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia and Nicaragua to the United States. Unsurprisingly, chaos ensues.
The two movies that feel most similar to “American Made” are “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Both films focus on morally gray individuals who see the seam of a system and are willing to exploit that seam for their own benefit. The primary difference is how “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” tackle the morality of their situations. “The Big Short” condemns excess and urges the viewer to focus on family, while “The Wolf of Wall Street” glorifies excess and offers no real moral message.
“American Made” follows the example of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Throughout the film’s nearly two-hour run time, there is no real condemnation of the actions taking place on the screen. The movie avoids taking a moral and political stance to the extent that some of its characters are even confused about how they are supposed to feel. Within “American Made,” Schafer has a small amount of screen time in which he is first developed as a crooked CIA agent but then condemns Seal for his actions.
Following another example from “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the family life of Seal in “American Made” is horribly underwritten. Throughout the beginning of the film, the bond between Seal and his wife, Lucy, played by Sarah Wright, is developed fairly well, but there is no real connection shown between him and his daughters. Rather than show Seal with his family, the movie spends screen time on drug run after drug run, thus establishing Seal as more of a drug runner than a family man in the eyes of the viewer. For this reason, by the time Seal’s family members are put at risk by his actions, the viewer is not remotely nervous for their fates. For the viewer, Seal’s family is nothing more than a collection of side characters who have little sway on the plot.
Out of all of Seal’s family, Lucy’s character receives the most screen time and is inserted into the movie to serve primarily as sex appeal for male viewers, appearing almost solely in lingerie or bikinis. Wright was given little to work with in her role, and the only time she is given a decent scene, her complaints are silenced by her husband throwing money at her feet. Needless to say, “American Made” is not a progressive film.
The family member who gets the second most screen time is JB, a Confederate flag-toting caricature of the American South played by Caleb Landry Jones. JB enters the film out of nowhere and then takes residence as the uncomfortable brother-in-law of Seal. JB adds nothing but awkward comedic relief to the plot, and after stirring up slight drama within the family, he leaves as abruptly as he was introduced and is never mentioned again.
From the lack of moral message to the odd inclusion and portrayal of JB, all the problems in “American Made” stem from poor decision-making regarding what defines America. Barry Seal’s last line in the film is him singing praise for America before gunshots cut his words and his life short. It feels like Seal is written as a martyr for the morals of America, but his actions throughout the film are wholly un-American. “American Made” tries to make a man who does not care for his family, smuggles drugs and gets obsessed with the material world an American hero, and that’s not the type of person Americans should strive to be.