American Made (2017)
Those of you who thought earlier this year that Tom Cruise was on the verge of being Mummified as an actor, don't worry.
In American Made, Tom Cruise is back. His star power is intact and ebullient.
Cruise carries the movie - I can't think of another actor who would do it as well.
He plays an actual figure, Barry Seal, and brings him to vivid life. [The fact that Seal reportedly weighed close to 300 pounds at times in his life just means the "true story" is not always actual.]
Despite his talent, Cruise is often underrated as an actor. His image - the twinkle in his eye, the prominent nose, the infectious grin - is just the surface.
Cruise, as he does in American Made, often plays a dogged go-getter. Capable and yet vulnerable. His bottle rocket body is hardly the stuff of the actual Seal, but it's part of his appealing image. Cruise is the most human of action figures.
Some directors plumb Cruise's shiny surface. Oliver Stone realized Cruise's ability to powerfully portray an actual paraplegic in Born on the Fourth of July (1989).
Tom Cruise's persona was ideal for brilliant director Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut (1999). One of Kubrick's priorities was showing the hollowness beneath the smooth surface in human beings. The fact that Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman were going through divorce deliberations at the time added to the effect.
Like Kubrick, director Doug Liman likes to play with Cruise's image as he did when he directed the actor in Edge of Tomorrow (2014), in which the character kept dying in battle and then coming back to life.
And remember Cruise stood up to Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men (1992).
Cruise knows his bankability, but at times - like Paul Newman - he is willing to take risks. Both Cruise and Newman were talented blue-eyed (or green-eyed) boys.
Perhaps some day Cruise will get the Oscar that eluded Newman until late in his career - The Color of Money (1986).
In American Made, Liman, Cruise, and writer Gary Spinelli shake up Cruise's image - Top Gun (1986) becomes Pop Gun.
Liman knows some of the turf since his father ran the investigation of Iran-Contra.
Ace pilot Barry Seal becomes involved in Central America and the Medellin cartel in a frenzy of flying and dealing drugs and arms.
The film is at its weakest when it introduces Seal's neer-do-well brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones), and the film focuses on incessant splurges of money. But the characters are more goats in Arkansas than wolves on Wall Street.
Domhnall Gleeson is apt as Seal's mysterious CIA handler. And Sarah Wright is personable in the limited role as Barry's loyal wife.
But American Made belongs to Tom Cruise. He struts his stuff, and has fun doing it.