(On Cable TV, June 2018) Interesting things happen when directors and superstar develop working relationships. I’m not sure that we would have American Made with Tom Cruise had it not been directed by Doug Liman, and if both of them hadn’t worked together on Edge of Tomorrow. No matter how we got here, American Made features Tom Cruise as a pilot who (he says) gets hired by the CIA to do dodgy things such as run drug shipments, liaise with drug lords and generally do what the CIA was suspected of doing in the 1980s. There’s a lot of “allegedly” here, but much of it does fit with what we know of CIA operations at the time. Under Liman’s direction, the story becomes a wild ride with quite a bit of colour correction as the protagonist escapes day-to-day drudgery to run an exciting double life as a covert agent. There’s quite a bit of flight romance here—don’t be surprised to want to learn to fly a small plane after seeing what they do here. (Although the crash sequence is a cautionary moment.) The film works generally well, even with its inevitable grim finale and the numerous deviations from the real event that (allegedly) inspired the movie. Cruise’s innate charm are a good fit for the roguish character portrayed here (and only loosely based on inspiration Barry Seal), giving further sympathy and energy to the film. There have been many 1980s biopics lately, but American Made does have a few good action sequences to it, some comedy and a few links to recent history. It’s not a great movie, but it is good enough.
(On Cable TV, February 2015) As a director, Doug Liman’s been hit-and-miss, but Edge of Tomorrow is a definite hit. You could crudely summarize the film as “sci-fi Groundhog Day” (even though it’s adapted from a Japanese Science-Fiction novel) and grind your teeth at the dumb setup in which humans are somehow stuck fighting aliens in a European ground war. But once the mechanics of the time-loop premise are laid out and the complications begin piling up for our protagonist, Edge of Tomorrow gains a strong forward narrative drive. Tom Cruise is pretty good as a back-room officer thrust into bloody combat, especially when he has to relive the same events over and over again until he gets it right. You can dig a bit into the film and come away with strong commentary on video-game playing and the consequences of choice, but it’s just as easy to be swept along by the fast-paced action and dark humor. Emily Blunt has a terrific role as a battle-hardened veteran, and she sells it perfectly. (Although I would have liked an older female actress in the role, just to lower the age difference between her and Cruise) Edge of Tomorrow definitely hits its stride in its middle third as time-loop possibilities are ingeniously exploited, and the film’s editing is taught-tight. It’s a bit unfortunate that the film’s third act seems so flaccid after such high notes: The night-time Paris sequence seem suddenly interminable and visually bleak, although I’m sucker enough for a happy ending that I won’t begrudge the sudden changes in the film’s rules in time for the coda. Edge of Tomorrow is just different and playful enough to distinguish itself from other run-of-the-mill SF action films, although it’s flawed enough to make anyone wish for a few further tweaks. Still: Not bad at all.