‘American Made’ review: Tom Cruise in classic action form

Cruise sustains the movie even in moments where it doesn’t live up to its freewheeling aspirations.

American Made

Directed to Doug Liman

Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

Rated R

After years spent on action movie autopilot, Tom Cruise resumes doing some actual acting in “American Made,” a gritty period piece about real-life TWA pilot Barry Seal and his work for the Medellin cartel.

The star is front and center throughout this reteaming with his “Edge of Tomorrow” director Doug Liman — one minute he’s profusely sweating in the jungle as he dangerously loads up his plane with bricks of cocaine and the next he’s moving his family from their Louisiana home to an Arkansas compound in the middle of the night after getting tipped about a planned 6 a.m. police raid.

He’s so dynamic, so present throughout every hand-held close-up and amid all the sticky situations facing his character as he plays the cartel and the CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) also seeking to utilize Barry’s smuggling skills, that you wish the star would exercise these muscles more frequently.

Cruise sustains the movie even in moments where it doesn’t live up to its freewheeling aspirations. Set during the late ’70s and early-to-mid ’80s, the movie follows the restless Seal as he abandons his commercial job to work for both sides of the law and finds himself swept up in the classical American adventurism of the period, notably involving the Contras.

It is made in the tradition of Latin America-set thrillers like “Sicario” (with a touch of “Breaking Bad” in Cruise’s take on Seal) and it similarly evokes the fruitlessness of the wars on drugs and Communism and other U.S. geopolitical endeavors in the region.

It’s not anything fresh and its dramatic rewards are minor, but Liman’s scrappy approach, defined by a shaky camera that seems to struggle to keep up with the constant movement, enhances the abiding pointlessness that hangs over it all.

Robert Levin