You guys have all seen Narcos right? Or at least have watched a few episodes before getting distracted by the other cool Netflix show that they put on straight after? Even though I’ve admittedly only caught it while my dad was watching it, on my Netflix account no less, you can see it’s a brilliant show that I should probably get around to watching. After Friends though. But with the success of that show, movies of course had to have their take on the drug trade, especially the drug trade that involved Pablo Escobar. But can American Made be as good as Narcos?
Barry Seal (Tom Cruise, Top Gun) is an airline pilot but is getting bored of doing the same humdrum routes. So when CIA officer Monty (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina) offers him a chance to become a reconnaissance pilot tasked with spying on rebels in Central America, he takes it. And things become madder than first expected when Barry also agrees to start smuggling guns and drugs.
This movie wants to be a wild ride. It wants to carry you from scene to scene, most of them crazier than the last. It’s not a movie that ever wants to rest, it just wants to keep throwing things at you that think are going to be cool. And in fairness, a lot of the scenes are pretty cool. One of the first scenes where we see Barry flying over Panama he has to dodge bullet shots from rebels who aren’t best pleased that a plane is flying low over them. Then he meets Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía, El Chapo) and that is some how cooler. We should probably question why we have made drug cartel leader into a pop culture figure but that’s for another article. Basically, the film is very effective at creating a lot of cool scenes that you will enjoy.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, drug cartel movies are basically gangster movies in that they follow the same arc. Basically a guy ends up involved in an illegal industry, it goes incredibly well for a while before he gets in above his head and it all goes wrong. That’s what this movie is. And there’s nothing really wrong with that arc, especially as the movie does pretty well at executing it. Because of the madness of the pace and the flow, and we’ll get to that, there is the feeling that this could all go wrong in a very short amount of time. And in fact it does, on several occasions Barry ends up being arrested before some how getting free. That does dilute the risk some what, but this movie does the clichés well and as the drug cartel movie trend is still fairly new, it’s not that tired yet.
And it’s nice to see Tom Cruise have some fun in a role. He has been getting a lot of justifiable criticism for his tired performance in The Mummy and because of the reports that he was behind a lot of the problems in that film. But if you were thinking that Cruise is a poor actor, let this movie dismiss this. He is the essence of a cocky guy who thinks he is the bomb. Actually, I don’t think Cruise was playing much of a part here. Despite that, he is just a lot of fun. Pretty much every actor who has to do a scene with him is dwarfed because Cruise has decided to chew the scenery and just live out his dreams of being a cocky drug smuggling king. It makes all the scenes with him in it better and in terms of the arc, it makes that fall even more brutal.
But now to the problems and some of them revolve around the cinematography. The movie goes for a sort of documentary feel with a few tactical shakes of the camera but it’s nothing too out there. Just think of a less gritty The Hurt Locker and you are on the right track. But that’s not the issue, it’s the filtering which irritates me. When the movie is in America, everything looks normal and fine. But things change when the movie heads to Central America. There the movie decides to tint everything with a yellow hue, most likely to emphasise the location. I hate this. Instead of making you feel like you are in Panama with them, it just looks like a cat has weed over the film. The movie was filmed in Colombia, so there was no need for it. I’ve got it on good authority that South and Central America is not urine yellow in real life, so let’s cut that out.
I did mention earlier there was a problem with the flow and it’s best I get to it now. This movie is a collection of cool scenes but instead of them all fitting together in a cohesive manner, they are linked with a bit of string rather than fitting together like a snug jigsaw. Nothing ever flows together in this movie, we just jump from a lot of cool stuff to another lot of cool stuff. Big things happen like arrests or Barry deciding that yes he will take this truckload of cocaine back with him to America and the plot never seems that bothered, it just goes along with it. The movie should step back a take a breather every so often just to allow the audience to get a grasp on what the situation is now. There’s nothing wrong with slowing things down every so often just so the movie works better as a whole. Think a race car going for a consistent speed around a track rather than one that goes far too fast down the straight and has to stamp on the brakes before reaching the corner so it doesn’t crash into the barricade.
American Made does have a lot to like about it. There’s evidence that Tom Cruise is still a good and very entertaining actor and many of the scenes are cool enough for rewatches. But it would be better to re-watch those scenes on YouTube rather than put the DVD in because the movie as a whole does not succeed. It is incredibly frantic and while lots of good stuff does happen, you can never really take it in as the movie intends because you are still enjoying the previous scene and wondering what it will mean for the rest of the movie. It’s not a terrible watch, you will enjoy a lot of it, it just needed someone to tell everyone to calm down once in a while. I’m sure there’s a drugs joke in there, but that’s up to you to make it.