Tag Archives: Doug Liman

“American Made”



It may be exasperating to repeatedly see 55 year old Tom Cruise trying to pass himself off as a thirty something man, but there’s something that’s undeniable about “American Made”: Cruise is the very definition of a movie star. His charisma elevates the material and is what makes this one worth watching.

The film is an exaggerated retelling of the incredible true story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA in the late 1970s to provide reconnaissance in Central America. Things go from crazy to even crazier as Seal finds himself in charge of one of the largest covert government operations in history, eventually becoming a drug runner for Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel, a DEA informant, and an illegal arms dealer for the United States. Over the years, he and his handler Schafer (a fantastic Domhnall Gleeson), become deeply imbedded in the Iran-Contra scandal.

There’s an intoxicating energy to this unbelievable story, as director Doug Liman plays fast and loose with the actual facts and events. There’s nothing groundbreaking in terms of story or craft, but Liman takes a complex story and makes it easy to understand as well as totally entertaining. This is a rapid paced, brisk retelling that’s not quite as skillfully directed as other American pop history films like “Argo,” but it’s still an engaging thrill ride.

Cruise has the right personality match for a cocky, carefree character, and his cavalier performance makes everything about it fun. You won’t get a complex history lesson about one of the wildest, most certifiably insane true stores in America’s history, but the facts are glossed over in a breezy, charming fashion that gives this one a fun edge thanks to Cruise’s movie star charisma.

“The Wall”



There is sure to be much talk and swirling accusations about “The Wall” being anti-American or anti-military, but I think this is much ado about nothing. The story of two soldiers pinned down by an Iraqi sniper doesn’t exactly portray the pair of Marines as glorified heroes, but how many human beings wouldn’t be terrified into making mistakes if they were trapped in a life-or-death situation like this?

Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Matthews (John Cena) are two Marines sent to keep an eye out for any enemy fire after a mass shooting scene in the desert. When one of the men leaves his post to investigate, the two become critically wounded by an infamous terrorist (Laith Nakli) hiding nearby. Both are trapped by a decaying wall that used to be part of a schoolhouse before the war started and soon after taking sniper fire, Isaac begins to hear a voice on his military radio. It’s the sniper, and he’s taking great delight in toying with the American soldier.

The film’s small scale is all the more intense because of the limited focus and three main characters, including a truly frightening man that we never see. Isaac is trapped behind a few feet of crumbling stones in the unforgiving Iraqi desert sun with a bleeding, gaping gunshot wound, without water, and without radio capabilities to call for help. As he sits in an increasingly large pool of his own blood, desperately trying to pin the enemy’s location as time is running out, his spirit is slowly being broken by the relentless verbal taunting and the realization that there is zero hope that this scenario is going to end well for him.

There’s a powerful sense of paranoia and fear that carries over through director Doug Liman‘s close-ups and smooth tracking shots (this film made me remember what a great director Liman truly is). The audience becomes part of the action as the camera is always right there in the dusty, sand-encrusted faces of these soldiers. The performances are strong and forceful, and Taylor-Johnson deserves to be a huge star based on moving performances like this. He seamlessly transforms from fearless courage to heightened despair to naive hope from moment to moment, and he’s truly fantastic in the role.

This isn’t a shoot ’em up nonstop action war movie, it’s more of an intense psychological thriller and slow burning talky about the horrors of war. It’s interesting and distinct in both its limited, cramped setting and its exceedingly pessimistic tone. The harsh ending could’ve used some rewrites because it feels like more of a “gotcha” gimmick than something meaningful, but it altogether fits with the increasingly distressing tone of the film.

This narrow, effective, and cynical war movie proves that filmmakers don’t always need a huge budget or pricey movie stars to make something substantial and worthwhile.