“American Made” puts Tom Cruise back into the world of biopics

Every decade or two, Tom Cruise seems to be compelled to take part in a biopic. Back in the late 80’s, it was his Academy Award nominated turn in Born on the Fourth of July. About 20 years later, it was Valkyrie. Now, this week sees him back playing a real person with American Made, a look at Barry Seal, a pilot who nearly ended up bringing down the Reagan Administration with his drug running. It’s still close to action hero territory at times for Cruise, but compared to many of his recent outings, this is downright a prestige picture. He’s a great movie star, endlessly compelling in action flicks, but serious films always contain his best performances.

The movie is a biopic, albeit an unconventional one. Barry Seal (Cruise) is an unhappy TWA pilot who ends up recruited by the CIA during the 1980’s. Monty ‘Schafer’ (Domhnall Gleeson) sees something in Barry, but not for conventional work. No, this is a bit more under the radar. Soon, Barry is working as a drug runner between the States and more Southern countries, all for the good old USA. All good things must come to an end though, and when he gets caught up in the work of Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía), things take a turn. Doug Liman directs a script by Gary Spinelli, with supporting turns here including Robert Farrior, Caleb Landry Jones, Lola Kirke, Jesse Plemons, Mickey Sumner, Sarah Wright, and more. Christophe Beck composed the score, while cinematography is by César Charlone.

This film seems to be a hybrid of a couple of different sorts of Cruise outings. It has tinges of action, while also telling a true story. In that realm, it’s closer to a drama than anything he’s attempted in years. Still, it has humorous elements as well. In that way, it may prove to be a harder sell than usual at the box office. For Cruise and Liman, they clearly make a good team, so maybe they’re building up to an actual prestige picture. That would be something, wouldn’t it? The man is in his mid 50’s, so he can’t run from explosions forever. Or, can he?

Here now are the ten best performances from Cruise to date:

10. Lions for Lambs
9. Vanilla Sky
8. Tropic Thunder
7. Risky Business
6. Eyes Wide Shut
5. Born on the Fourth of July
4. All The Right Moves
3. A Few Good Men
2. Jerry Maguire
1. Magnolia

Honorable Mention: Collateral, Edge of Tomorrow, Knight and Day, Minority Report, Rain Man, and War of the Worlds

American Made won’t contend for any awards, so ignore its Oscar possibilities. Still, Cruise is certainly overdue for a statue. A three time nominee with the Academy, he has come close to winning, but never made it across the finish line. This isn’t going to do it for him, but if he wants it, there could be plum supporting roles for him in the near future. He’s reaching an age where a different kind of baity role beings to appear. Cruise has the chops to ace those, so if he desires that sort of recognition, he could be someone to watch out for, awards wise, in the years to come.

On Friday, audiences will get a slightly different sort of Cruise when American Made lands in theaters. Fans of his love when he saves the day, so while this is more of an anti hero role for him, it’s still close enough to his action ways to likely satisfy. The question is, can he bring in those who long for the days when he did drama? Much like with Liam Neeson yesterday, Cruise is at his best with drama. Hopefully he’s dipping his toe in the water here, in preparation for a full on return. Well, one can dream at least, right? Time will tell, but this flick is coming very soon and should prove to be an entertaining one…

Be sure to check out American Made, in theaters everywhere this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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