Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: American Made

“Battle of the Sexes” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.  

There’s something about the character of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) that threw me off in the opening moments of “American Made.” Early on, while at an airport bar, he meets a CIA agent who identifies himself as Monty “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson). Monty needs a pilot who can fly reconnaissance missions over jungle countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, to take photographs. Seal is very enthusiastic about the opportunity, to the point where he can’t believe he’s working for the CIA—it’s like a boyhood dream come true.

Then it hit me: The age dynamic was throwing me off. Gleeson is in his early- to mid-thirties and Cruise is in his mid-fifties. To have Cruise act childlike, naïve, and innocent is one thing in and of itself that is bit of a stretch, but to have him to do it with someone who is twenty years his junior is strikingly unrealistic—to the point where it took me out of the movie. I actually mean this in a complimentary way. I enjoy Cruise’s movies immensely (even taking the dissenting opinion on “The Mummy” by recommending it), and I want him to keep going for as long as he can. That doesn’t change the fact that the lines and creases in his still handsome face betray a certain level of experience and world-weariness that do not fit the behavior of that character. I can see someone the same age as Gleeson, or someone more baby-faced, pulling it off, but it’s too much to ask with Cruise. Again, I mean this in the most sincerely positive way. Through the decades that he’s been on the big screen, the man has aged like a very fine wine. Those opening scenes are intended for an actor who is still a grape.

Luckily, that’s only the beginning of the movie. Based on a true story, “American Made” shines and picks up momentum as Seal gets deeper and deeper into trouble. When Monty makes it clear that Seal will not get paid more money for taking on riskier work, he tells Seal that he will “figure it out.”

So figure it out he does—by running drugs into the United States for the Medellin Cartel, the cartel of the infamous Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia). Monty picks up on this side habit, and in order for Seal to keep it up, he now on his trips across the southern border has to run guns to the Contras, whom the U.S. supports to overthrow the dictatorship in Nicaragua.

Director Doug Liman does a great job of balancing the tone of “American Made.” The essence of the movie is a deeply suspenseful and serious story involving drugs, guns, Contras, the CIA, the DEA, and local law enforcement, but Liman handles the material with a light touch and the movie never fails to be entertaining. A scene in which the drug planes fly too slowly to be intercepted by American fighter jets is especially amusing.

Still, this is a no joke, life or death scenario that Seal finds himself in. How unwittingly he finds himself in the situation is open to debate. It’s hard to sympathize with a man who brought drugs into the U.S., but then again, this is why it’s ultimately good that the role is played by Tom Cruise once the movie gets going. He has an easy going charm and instant likability that make you root for him, even if he’s doing something bad. Plus Seal is written sympathetically. We see the situation he is in with the CIA, plus with his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright), and understand why he makes the decisions he makes. Right or wrong, it’s easy to judge, but what would you do? Oh, really? Buy it: American Made [Blu-ray].   

More New Releases: “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs, about the famous 1973 tennis match between the two; “Brad’s Status,” about a father who takes his son to tour colleges on the East Coast and meets up with an old friend who makes him feel inferior about his life's choices, starring Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, and Jenna Fischer; “Rebel in the Rye,” biopic about reclusive “Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger, starring Zoey Deutch, Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, and Sarah Paulson; “Breathe,” based on a true story of a man named Robin (Andrew Garfield) whose life takes a dramatic turn when he’s stricken with polio; “The Houses October Built 2,” sequel to the underground horror hit that answers some questions about the first movie (like how did they survive?) but raises others; and “Blame it on Rio,” 1984 movie starring Michael Caine as a middle-aged man who has an affair with his 17 year old daughter’s (Demi Moore) best friend (Michelle Johnson)—who also happens to be his best friend’s (Joseph Bologna) daughter. Very topical given the sex scandals of today involving older men and younger women, but this movie is played for laughs and for the most part, it earns them.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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