Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Mission: Impossible Series, Jerry Maguire) reunites with his Edge of Tomorrow director, Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), as Barry Seal, an American pilot who became a drug-runner for the CIA in the 1980s. American Made co-stars Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina), Sarah Wright Olsen (Walk of Shame), Jesse Plemons (Black Mass) and Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral). The film is produced by Imagine Entertainment's Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind), Cross Creek Pictures' Brian Oliver (Black Swan) and Tyler Thompson (Everest), Quadrant Pictures' Doug Davison (The Departed), and Kim Roth (Inside Man) with a screenplay by Gary Spinelli (Stash House).
Doug Liman's American Made is the outrageously insane, unbelievable true story of a commercial airline pilot flying reconnaissance missions in South America for the CIA. That pilot, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), later expands his interests into the drug trafficking business for the notorious Medellín Cartel and finished his steep rise to prosperity by becoming a DEA informant. For those unfamiliar with Seal's short-lived success and mediocre notoriety, it is the infamous story of a former Army soldier who basically dared to dream too big rather than settling into the traditional nuclear family. In real life, his smuggling activities, stretching over ten years from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, single-handedly impacted the war on drugs effort and ushered in the cocaine epidemic of that era, leading to the well-known "Just Say No" slogan that remains popular today. In this adaptation inspired by various sources, the filmmakers take a great deal of creative license with the much-less glamorous reality, stretching and distorting the facts not only for entertainment purposes but also in an attempt to dig at a deeper truth within modernity's notions of success.
In this fictionalized depiction of events, some of which were completely made-up by Seal while others are sizable exaggerations of the details, Seal is a bit of a smug daredevil dissatisfied with his career flying passenger planes for TWA. An amusing montage of him bidding adieu to commuters shows him reciting a scripted farewell that feels forced and painfully hollow while managing to sport a fake, toothy smile. We're never lead to believe he hates his life, but it's clear the routine has drained, if not killed, his passion for flying, coming home to his adoringly affectionate wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), only to immediately pass out in bed. His prospects for excitement suddenly take a turn for the better when the mysterious CIA agent Monty Shafer (Domhnall Gleeson) contacts him with an unexpected business opportunity. With his smugness and ego also growing with the size of this venture, no one better could have done this character justice than Cruise. Although he doesn't carry the sort of box-office weight he once did, the A-list actor remains at the top of his game with a natural talent for bringing a sense of humanity and fragility to these sorts of personalities.
Told with a documentary feel, as though impulsively capturing everything in the moment, Liman and cinematographer César Charlone (City of God, The Constant Gardener) take a handheld approach to the material, allowing Cruise the freedom to do what he does best. He's proven himself a charismatic talent for making self-absorbed, vainglorious characters into believable people while also charming the camera, knowing when to be eccentric versus emotional according to that character's story development. Or better yet, it gives Seal the opportunity to hijack the camera and bathe in the attention, to bask in his own sense of accomplishment, misguided and deluded as his perception of success truly is. And that is precisely why this film works and is vastly more entertaining than it has any right to be. Confessing all his activities onto VHS tapes, both as a video diary and as evidence, Seal makes no apologies, never asks for forgiveness and doesn't offer to make amends for his wrongdoings. In spite of all his blatantly obvious mistakes, he remains unfazed and undaunted by the experience in front of the camera, though the filmmakers imagine otherwise.
Ultimately, American Made is, at heart, an all-too-familiar story about the rise and downfall of a life in the era of excess, another period in the 20th Century when overindulgence was the norm and the degree of one's success was weighed by material things and overconsumption. And as the title seems to suggest, have times really changed going into the 21st Century where money is, once again, God and wealth equated to happiness. Seal is incapable of seeing through his own lies and warped sense of prosperity while a loving family stands at his side. His story is a morality tale of greed superseding wisdom and sensible decision-making, and as such, we know in advance it will not end well. Perhaps, this also makes it a very conventional, if not also predictably clichéd, a fable about money only bringing temporary happiness, yet watch and gawk in fascination like a car wreck on the side of the road. But for Liman and writer Gary Spinelli, the true-life account provides a wildly entertaining conceit on the ever-elusive "American Dream," of coming too close to the proverbial sun and being terribly burned by it.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings American Made to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. A Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 copy of the movie. Both are housed inside a standard blue keepcase with a lightly embossed slipcover. After several skippable trailers, viewers are taken to a menu screen with full-motion clips, options along the left side and music.
The wildly fascinating crime bio-drama smuggles a gorgeously breathtaking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode into Blu-ray territory. Director Doug Liman and cinematographer César Charlone shot the entire film digitally with a heavily-stylized palette and a handheld approach to give the story a pseudo-documentary feel. The first half of the movie appears to have been done with a diffusion filter that occasionally makes whites seem overblown and colors as though bleeding, giving it a dreamy, fantasized touch. However, beneath this intentionally creative choice, contrast is well-balanced and pitch-perfect, making the whole presentation pop with a crisp, radiant energy. Primaries are also deliberately exaggerated ever so slightly, but they are sumptuous and incredibly rich while secondary hues display a vast array of soft, vivid pastels that make nearly scene a picturesque beauty, and flesh tones appear healthy and accurately rendered with lifelike complexions that reveal the smallest blemish, pore, and wrinkle.
In fact, tucked away under all that shine and gloss is pristine, primo definition and resolution. Individual hairs and the threading in clothing is razor sharp, and every object and piece of furniture in Barry's extravagant house is crystal clear. From a distance, the leaves swaying atop trees is plainly visible, and viewers can practically count each rivet of the large military planes. Some of the best moments are the extreme wide aerial shots over the South American jungle. Of the entire stylized presentation, brightness levels seem to take the hardest hit, looking pretty faded and dull for a good chunk of the first half. Interestingly, as the story continues, the diffusion filter isn't quite as heavy while blacks also begin improving, looking richer and more full-bodied with dark, penetrating shadows that provide the 1.85:1 image with great dimensionality. In the end, the high-def transfer is faithful to the intentions of the filmmakers and looks marvelous.
The ever-elusive American Dream becomes a tangible reality thanks to an awesomely gratifying DTS:X soundtrack that, much like the film itself, genuinely surprises for a dialogue-driven drama. The surrounds are continuously kept busy with the noise of the city, the local wildlife of the jungle or the nearby forest, the wind blowing through the trees and the voices of men surrounding Barry during his South American visits. The few skirmishes about are riddled with bullets discretely panning between the surrounds and ceiling channels, filling the room with the thrilling terror of barely escaping danger. The best moments, however, are any scenes with airplanes flying overhead, convincingly moving across the sky and above the listening area, -creating a satisfyingly-immersive hemispheric soundfield. Further complementing the visuals is a great song selection that effectively bleeds into all speakers to fully envelop and engage the viewer.
As mentioned above, the film is largely driven by character interactions, so the various conversations are given top priority, delivering precise, crystal clear dialogue even during the quietest, most intimate moments. The rest of the soundstage is kept busy with tons of bustling background activity effortlessly moving across the screen, and the loudest, action-packed segments exhibit detailed clarity in the mid-range with excellent distinction in the higher frequencies. The design also energizes the room with a forcefully persuasive and impressively vigorous low-end, providing the on-screen action with outstanding presence, the music with appreciable oomph and each bullet with a potent punch.
American Storytellers (HD, 7 min): Cast & crew interviews breakdown the plot and the characters involved.
In the Wings (HD, 6 min): More interviews praising the performances of the supporting cast.
The Real Barry Seal (HD, 6 min): Barry Seal's son, Aaron, shares some memories of his father.
Cruise & Liman: A Conversation (HD, 5 min): The two chat enthusiastically about the overall production.
Flying High (HD, 5 min): Cast & crew praise Cruise, who is a licensed pilot, on his aviation skills.
Shooting American Made (HD, 4 min): Very brief discussion on shooting locations via more interviews.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 10 min): Six sequences with optional director commentary.
JB Goes to Church
Barry Crashes into Sheriff's Station
Schafer in CIA Meeting
Doug Liman's American Made is the outrageously insane, unbelievable true story of commercial airline pilot Barry Seal flying reconnaissance missions in South America for the CIA. With another excellent performance from Tom Cruise in the lead, the crime bio-drama is vastly more entertaining than it has any right to be, allowing Cruise's portrayal of the character the opportunity to bathe in the attention and bask in his own sense of accomplishment, misguided and deluded as his perception of success truly is. The ever-elusive "American Dream" lands on Blu-ray with a heavily-stylized but fantastically gorgeous video presentation and a highly-satisfying, demo-worthy DTS:X soundtrack. Although supplements are pretty light and somewhat forgettable, the overall package is recommended.