Doug Liman has been known to be experimental with his direction as he’s been a man that has suffered in creating intrigue within that of his characters at least visually. It’s a harsh criticism that we’ve seen reappear in films like “The Wall” that came out earlier this year. A film that is great in its own right, but suffers from creating visual intriguement at times as the screenplay, and the performances take front and center for most of the runtime. “American Made” follows that trend in a story centering around that of a professional airlines pilot being recruited by that of the CIA to capture reconnaissance on communism actions taking place within that of Latin America. This journey begins to take wild turns that lead him to drug smuggling, gun running, and money laundering for the Colombian cartels, the CIA, and even the White House in this insanely hard to believe narrative that is supposedly based on that of a true story. The screenplay builds upon itself quite well, but the direction and cinematography fail to match that of the entertainment fabricated within the narrative. Another film that lacks that of any stylistic enhancement from Liman despite his ability to craft films that match that of a remarkable depiction of tone and pacing in creations like “Bourne Identity” and “Edge of Tomorrow.”
The problem that Liman combats in this movie is that of setting and rapid development of the narrative. “American Made” has a uniquely swift in the screenplay’s raid changes within that of its tone. The screenplay begins with a tone of severity in its depiction of its lead, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). It’s not somber, but its treated with a dose of realism that carries this film to the point of grounded authenticity. The screenwriting rapidly transitions the tone to a more simplified dose of entertainment that allows for traditional music from that time of the 1970's to swell in the background and Tom Cruise’s charisma to take hold of the silver screen. This swift change, in essence, is once again adjusted to something that is more reminiscent to that of overwhelming insanity as the facets of this man’s ludicrous lifestyle begin to engulf that of his everyday life. The sheer bulk of the money is so incredibly large in amount that it leads to this family running out of room on their 2000 acre estate to withhold the ridiculous quantity of wealth that this man has gained in his vast journeys of his irregular occupation. We then reintroduce a more somber tone as one major mistake by that of the United States government leads to the immediate endangerment of Barry’s (Tom Cruise) family. It's turning this film into a thriller of sorts as we await a man’s demise as the hunt for his blood takes place. Meanwhile, he attempts to tell his story through a series of videotape recordings that we are introduced to interludes of footage throughout the film. Gary Spinelli does a fantastic job in not only structuring his screenplay but also the way he tells his story in the way he rapidly develops the tone to maintain audience interest within the narrative. This may lead to the point of overwhelming where audience members may lose interest within the story as the may find this ever so changing story bewildering as they are unable to keep up. My theatre experience hinted at this theory as the audience felt split between people who were intertwined with that of the narrative’s mind-blowingly compelling narrative while others felt disinterested in a story that may have felt overlong to them. For me, the screenwriting was the best aspect of this film as well as Tom Cruise’s enchantingly charismatic performance as his undeniable charm takes center stage. He’s quickly resonating with his ability to capture a southern charm and a willingness to go along with any hand he’s given in this continuously twisting world we find ourselves placed in by Gary Spinelli. This film loses a lot of strokes though, with that of the direction and the cinematography. The film takes place within a period between the late 1970’s and the earlier to mid-1980’s. The film never feels like it's taking place within those time periods as the production design and the soundtrack fail to capture that 1970’s essence that films like Jordan Vogt-Roberts “Kong: Skull Island” captured so effortlessly earlier this year. The cinematography is glossy as the shine and reflections of sunlight off of objects like that of planes and cars can begin to become blinding. This is Liman’s first film that was captured through digital photography, and it feels like such as he is unable to replicate the believability essence within that of the visuals. This may have been more of the fault of that of Cesar Charlone who was the director of photography on this project and his past works as a cinematographer reflect this choice of oversaturation and glossy visual that lack that believability that Liman is known for. The direction has no sense of urgency or that of intensity as the shot composition, and overall depiction of the story feels like it was directed by someone that lacked passion for the narrative itself. The Liman style of quick zooms within that of medium shots that we’ve seen replicated in shows like “24” is present throughout this film and feels entirely unnecessary. This movie seems like it requires more attention to that of its overall design and depiction of events than anything else. It does a good enough job but could be done better if the project found itself in different hands.
Overall, “American Made” gets a recommendation for me as a solid dose of entertainment to go see in the theatres with your friends and loved ones. The story is ever so developing, so be prepared to be awake and forced to keep up with this narrative that can feel overwhelming at times. The direction and cinematography are two characteristics that bothered me personally as a viewer that will most likely go unnoticed by that of the general audience. They just felt fake and distracting for the most part, and if placed in better hands those two characteristics of the film could have carried this film from compelling to extraordinary. Doug Liman’s career continues to evolve from that of his successful “Bourne Identity” in which he dosed that movie with an excellent use of camera work and shot structure that feels absent from that of “American Made.” He’s showcased time and time again in other works of his filmography like that of the surprisingly extraordinary “Edge of Tomorrow” and the superbly thrilling “The Wall.” As much like “The Wall,” “American Made” shows cracks within that of its technical aspects of the filmmaking that fail to fabricate this film from satisfactory to exceptional. Doug Liman remains as someone that should still be considered a really really good director, but if these cracks continue to show then, I fear for the much-anticipated sequel to the beloved “Edge of Tomorrow.”