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American Made (2017)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 1/2/2018
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/27/2017
American Made tells the story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), who was a pilot for TWA in the mid-70s. Barry seemed to have a good life, as he enjoyed his job and had a beautiful wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright). He also made some money on the side by smuggling cigars from Havana. He is approached by a CIA agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who has learned of Barry's extracurricular activities and recruits the pilot to fly through Central America in order to photograph military outposts there. Feeling that he has no choice, Barry accepts the job, telling Lucy that he’s taken a consulting position. While on one of his trips down south, Barry is approach by Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), of the Meddllin drug cartel and convinced to start taking drugs to the U.S. Again, Schafer learns of this and instead of busing Barry, decides to turn it into a new operation in which Barry will bring in the drugs and then take weapons back to Central American rebels. This lead to what we, the public, know as the Iran-Contra Scandal. But, how long can Barry keep up this criminal activity?
American Made represents a re-teaming of Tom Cruise and Director Doug Liman following their underrated Edge of Tomorrow. (A movie which was subsequently re-titled “Live, Die, Repeat” for its home video release. I guess they realized that Edge of Tomorrow sounds like a soap opera.) And it’s ironic that American Made is about a pilot as, just like Edge of Tomorrow, it virtually flew under the radar during its theatrical release. (It did gross a small profit at the box office, but when the movie arrived for me to review, my wife said, “Never heard of it.” I think that it was another case of a bad, confusing title.) That is unfortunate, as American Made is pretty good, showing once again that Liman is a talented storyteller.
The thing which makes American Made work is that it doesn’t glamorize Barry and his activities. Breaking multiple laws (domestic and international), lying to his wife, double-crossing everyone that he meets -- Barry is a scoundrel through and through, and the film never tries to paint him in a positive light. Which leads me to my next point. I’ve never liked Tom Cruise and I think that he’s a terrible actor, as I simply don’t buy into any character which he plays...unless he’s playing a cocky asshole. Which means that he’s perfect here. Barry is a bullshit artist who is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of anyone who is after him. Cruise is perfect for this role and his ability to “charm” everyone which he meets helps to make the movie believable. This is combined with Liman’s creative approach to the material, in which he uses interesting on-screen titles and animation to ensure that the audience is up-to-speed. He also keeps things moving along at a nice clip, and the rising tension of the story helps to keep the film interesting.
So, overall, I was pleasantly surprised by American Made until...
I went online and read Barry Seal’s true story which, to say the very least, differs wildly from the film. From the first second of American Made, “liberties” were taken with Barry’s narrative and it just keeps changing from there. Some of the things in the movie are accurate, but from Barry’s real-life physical appearance to how he got involved with the government, most of the story has been altered. The question is, why? Barry’s real-life story was certainly intriguing and unique and he has been featured in other movies and shows which are about drug-smuggling. Knowing that Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli changed so much for dramatic license truly skewed by view of the film. Again, I enjoyed the film while I was watching it, but my further research left me feeling short-changed. Should this have changed my opinion? I don’t know, but when I watch a biopic, I like to think that I’m learning something, and I hope that the info is somewhat accurate.
American Made didn’t make me feel any better about flying on 4K UHD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 70 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no noticeable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The transfer is well-balanced, as it doesn’t suffer from the flickering from light to dark which can plague some 4K releases. The picture is nicely detailed and it never shows any softness. The Disc carries a DTS-X audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 7.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio is very impressive, most notably with the airplane effects. As the planes zip by, we are treated to very detailed front and rear channel effects, and the audio moves very smoothly from the stereo to the surround speakers. This is accompanied by deep subwoofer effects which emphasize the roar of the plane engines.
The extras for American Made are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Liman. There are certainly some new scenes here, some of which offer some new ideas, but nothing which alters the story. "American Storytellers" (7 minutes) has Liman stating that the movie is "based on a true story but it's not based on a book". What? From there, the various members of the team talk about how the film approached the story, but they don't talk about how the film changed the facts. "Cruise & Liman: A Conversation" (5 minutes) has the director and actor talking about the themes of the film. "In the Wings" (6 minutes) focuses on the film's secondary characters and has comments from the actors. "Shooting American Made" (4 minutes) takes us on-set for a brief featurette which looks at some of the location work. "Flying High" (5 minutes) looks at the airplane stunts in the film and how some of the shots were filmed. "The Real Barry Seal" (6 minutes) is an interviews with Aaron Seal, who talks about his father, revealing some things which weren't in the film.
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long