It’s the perfect title – American Made. Often stickered onto products designating their source, the phrase also holds truth in the case of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). An army pilot, a TWA pilot, and eventually, an underpaid CIA agent turned cocaine runner; Barry Seal lived a busy life.
At the peak of his “career,” Seal ran out of room to store his money. He laundered it through phony shell companies. He buried suitcases of cash in the backyard. The closets of his home? Those were full. What money he did deposit, the bank needed to give him an entire vault for storage.
Seal did things the American way. The government called, he served. The government underpaid and underappreciated him, so he ran drugs for Pablo Escobar. Seal’s government jobs – plural – included gun running for Nicaraguans, dropping off cash to support rebels, and other various international activities, working alongside Ronald Reagan’s fervent anti-drug posturing… while simultaneously spreading cocaine throughout the US’s southern border.
Director Doug Liman shoots American Made with a documentary eye. Compressing six years of chaos into two hours, Liman and Cruise run headlong into this story. American Made isn’t cohesive at the outset, panning around the timeline in a context exercise, but then it comes together. Cruise makes a character out of Seal. He’s abrasive and odd, eventually dressed in his own ego. Sweaty Panama scenery bounce off well dressed government offices, creating contrast; Seal dresses down, laughing it up with Escobar, the CIA sits stonewalled in their cubicles.
Biographical or not, Liman’s tone and Gary Spinelli’s script pair for a near satire. Although the historical surroundings concern South American uprising and rebellion, this story of a self-made millionaire (billionaire?) on an inept government’s dollar is naturally goofy. Seal’s success feeds on a belief that America is always the good guy. Dropping Nicaraguan cocaine into a Louisiana swamp? Well, that’s helping the southern country’s economy. And, in a real world Robin Hood scenario, Seal revitalizes a crumbling Arkansas town (he runs out of room to store the money anyway). Everyone is satisfied. Seal becomes an unknown folk hero with the honesty of Clyde Barrow.
As told on film, American Made packs in the details and significant events. There’s a loss of character, trading antics for development. Seal’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) cares for the kids and mopes at home as her husband travels. She’s a stereotypical wife in a male-driven story. That loss of detail works for a ghost-like CIA agent, Schaffer (Domhnall Gleeson) if not so much for Seal’s extended family.
Video (4K UHD)
Post-production color grading goes overboard in American Made. Using a torrent of orange and teal, primaries typically find themselves eroded by the coloring. Flesh tones turn vibrant orange. Surroundings suffocate under the glaze of teal. Forget black levels. From American Made’s opening frames inside a cockpit, gray is the best this one gives.
There is contrast. South American locales pile on sunlight, although the HDR effects never get started. Light sources look a touch pale. Take a peek at skylines as the family travels into Arkansas. The clouds look gray. And, without significant black levels by design, there’s little to offer the format.
Shot digitally at 2K, a handful of instances provide strong detail. Flying over shanty towns and forested areas, the location work is quite dazzling. Cinematography plays with focus, draining the image of sharpness during numerous close-ups. Universal’s disc offers resistance-free looks into this stylized imagery, guilty of only minor chroma noise and one shot of odd compression near the 38-minute mark. The rest suffers no ill after effects in the transfer to disc.
With pale black levels and sometimes aggressive noise, American Made chokes a little on Blu-ray. Resolution isn’t an issue. Fine facial detail (where possible) and superlative aerial views deliver the necessary definition.
Source material battles the imagery, softening and sharpening by the will of the cinematography. This digital source struggles to stay clean, oddly not an issue on UHD, but notable here.
Both discs include DTS:X, panning plane engines and offering ambiance when onboard. Engines pop up in the stereos or surrounds as Cruise sits in the pilot seat. A crash landing in a neighborhood is a sonic highlight, hitting the low-end with force and sending debris around the soundfield.
Although dialog driven, splashes of gunfire and chaos pepper American Made. Cruise makes a number of passes over enemy territory, bullets piercing metal near the seat. Those pings nicely travel between speakers to give a 360 degree spread.
Although brief, bonus features (all of which stay on the Blu-ray) do offer insight. Liman’s commentary over six deleted scenes is strong, and it’s a shame he doesn’t offer a feature length commentary. Six featurettes follow, none of them reaching seven minutes. The best of the lot is The Real Barry Seal, interviewing Seal’s youngest son about growing up with his father. American Storytellers delves into the history of the events, another great feature. The actors, location shoots, and aviation authenticity follow those, each of them fine if too brief.
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