Tuesday, October 3, 2017

LIZ SMITH: American Made

Tom Cruise as Barry Seal in "American Made."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

American Made: Made for Fun, and For Tom Cruise Fans!

“A MOVIE star is not an artist, he is an art object,” said the famed film historian, Richard Schickel.
SO, over the weekend I went to an art exhibit. That is, I took in the new Tom Cruise movie, “American Made.”

Cruise has always been one of my favorite actor/movie stars. His charisma, right from the start, was so blinding as to obfuscate his talent.

His talent — like that of many great stars — was dependent on an instantly identifiable look and sound and a battery of mannerisms sprung from the head of — in this case — Mr. Cruise. He has likely made more money for Hollywood than any other male actor. His films have grossed approximately $9 billion. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards. (For “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Magnolia” and “Jerry Maguire.”)
But so far, Hollywood has yet to put him up there at the podium, holding a little golden guy. He might have to wait until he looks decrepit and plays a beat-up alcoholic or a victim of Alzheimer’s. (Cruise is 55, but most of the time, doesn’t look it.)

For far lesser performances than Cruise has given in at least half a dozen films, others have garnered the ultimate show biz honor, but for reasons known only to the industry, Cruise is kept at a distance. As I will never have to date or marry Mr. Cruise or listen to anything he has to say about his spiritual beliefs, I remain firmly in his corner as a performer. Hell, I loved “Far and Away”!
The only “scandal” Cruise has ever been involved in, is his belief in the controversial tenants of Scientology. Drunks, drug-addicts, the sexually promiscuous, very, very mean people, near and actual imbeciles have won the Oscar. But not Mr. Cruise.

He’s likely not weeping bitter tears among his many, many millions of dollars, nor do we feel as strongly about his exclusion, as we do about, say, Doris Day. Still, his Oscar-less state always gives me pause.

“American Made” will not get Tom an Oscar, nor even a nomination. (Wait — I take that back. The performance has more than enough charm and energy to rate a nomination.)
But it is the very best Tom Cruise movie in some time, and it is so classic, such a throwback to many of his earlier hits, with an appealing edge of maturity, that it is hard to resist.

The movie is very loosely based, on the skuzzy real-life adventures of an unappealing character named Barry Seal. He was a TWA pilot who became a CIA informer and a drug smuggler, a man with no discernible moral code or loyalties. (In the film, we are supposed to believe he’s attached to his family, and is a kind of good guy doing bad things for them. In real life he was, well — not Tom Cruise!)
The film, which moves at warp speed, is a parody, a cautionary tale, an expose, a crime drama, a comedy, an action film. Does it always make sense? Or ever? Nope. But one thing “American Made” does not aim to be is a documentary.
Kudos to director Doug Liman, who guided Cruise through the very good sci-fi entry, “Edge of Tomorrow.” This one, “American Made,” feels like something we’ve seen before, in variations of drama and comedy, but the Liman/Cruise collaboration gives it a frenetic, if
Liman is also known for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” the film that brought Angie and Brad together, and “The Bourne Identity.” (The first and by far the best, Jason Bourne film.)
High marks as well to Sarah Wright, who plays Cruise’s wife, and (especially) Domhnall Gleeson the CIA operative who essentially gets the crazy going in this movie. (His name is already being bandied about for Oscar consideration.)
Sarah Wright as Cruise’s wife.
Domhnall Gleeson as Monty Schafer.
But the movie belongs to, is made for, and rendered hugely entertaining by Tom Cruise, movie star deluxe, very good actor, objet d’ art.

P.S. There has been some sniping over the fact that Sarah Wright is about 20 years Tom Cruise’s junior, and no point is made of this. Whereas, if a 55-year-old leading lady was partnered romantically with a man in his twenties, there would most assuredly be at least a line of dialogue — likely from the lady — expressing some hesitation on her part. Or the clichéd, wary glimpse in the mirror.
It is an old double standard. I mean, let’s all go back and consider the first few years of Audrey Hepburn’s career, paired with the likes of Bogart and Bill Holden, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire — and they all looked their age!
It’s not even that Cruise appears that young. At his best he looks a boyish 45. From other angles, his own age of 55, which is not our father’s 55 — it’s still a young man. More than genetics, vitamins, exercise or careful procedures, Cruise’s youthfulness is based on his high energy level. The way he moves, speaks and reacts. Like, well — Joan Collins! Dame Joan is 84, but when she swaggers into a room, she’s 34 in attitude, vivacity, wit and good health.

In fact, now that I think of it. If Joan Collins was ever to make a movie with Tom Cruise in which they interacted romantically, I know for sure there would be no cautionary line of dialogue from Miss Collins and no nervous glance in the looking glass. Her attitude would be, “I hope the boy can keep up!”
WE ARE going to wait a beat — like until this Thursday — to see if the new “Will & Grace” got the Trump jokes out of the way, out of their system, during last week’s return, and now settles into standard suspension-of-disbelief-sitcom-foolishness.

I found the comeback a rather grim thing, because of the politicizing. Maybe if the jokes had been funnier. (After all, we’re no fans of 45.) But really — a Trump/Cheetos comparison? That was so over during the campaign.

Stay tuned.
Contact Liz here.