SINGAPORE: With his latest movie, Tom Cruise proves once again that he is one of Tinseltown's last bona fide movie stars.
The colourless The Mummy reboot was a misstep, but the 55-year-old is well on his way to making us forget that by teaming up with his 2014 box office hit movie Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman.
It’s all Cruise control in this inspired-by-real-life caper as audiences get to enjoy a vintage Top Gun Tom going full Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street mode, with a splash of Mission Impossible.
In American Made, Cruise plays Barry Seal, a commercial pilot who finds himself part of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in US history when he is recruited by the government to provide surveillance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America.
In a story that is as incredible and unpredictable as its protagonist, this is a dramedy that is part absurdist comedy, part political satire, part conspiracy crime escapade.
As Seal flies around in aviators and a flashy private plane running surveillance for the CIA, he soon gets embroiled with drug trafficking and notorious figures from Pablo Escobar’s infamous Medellín cartel. Things take a dramatic turn when his greedy multi-tasking spirals out of control.
Cruise seems to be having more fun than ever as he delivers a larger-than-life rogue that is both charismatic and likable - what is arguably the perfect cinematic Tom Cruise archetype.
Almost mocking his filmic reputation as the ethical action hero, his performance as Seal is an interesting glimpse of both his dramatic stretch (Magnolia and Jerry Maguire) and comedic chops (Tropic Thunder).
Going far deeper than his character arc requires of him, Cruise does what he does best, which is to get the most out of that cocky toothy grin and unfettered action-packed enthusiasm.
As evidenced in both his indie wonders (Go, Swingers) and big-budget action thriller hits (The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith), Liman is the perfect director to shrewdly piece together a so-crazy-it-must-be-true tale like American Made. Only he can craft a dizzying combination of suspense, thrills, black comedy and action that is grounded in reality and some semblance of credibility.
Using his signature hand-held camerawork gift and frenetic editing, Liman also throws in background news reel footage and animation all set against a groovy jukebox soundtrack as he cements the period and setting.
American Made may seem, on the surface, yet another over-the-top film indictment of the American dream. But on deeper viewing, the film feels like a back door peek into a potentially darker story of conspiracy and secrets between government agencies and criminal organisations.
Whichever way you choose to sway, it's undeniable that the collaborative effort of Liman and Cruise reveals itself to be a tongue-in-cheek jaunt with an edge.
Together with Gary Spinelli’s snappy and embellishment-filled script, this is a thoroughly entertaining and mischievously engrossing story, even if one sporadically questions its overall trustworthiness and reliability.
It is also celluloid proof that given the right director and script, Cruise is still that legit A-lister with the chops to carry a film.
Genevieve Loh's rating: 3.5/5