Any literary nerd is familiar with Goethe's drama Faust, in which a scholar receives magical powers from the Devil in exchange for his soul. In director Doug Liman's American Made, the scholar is played by Tom Cruise, and there are multiple deals made. All come to bite him in the ass.

Though it bares similarities to that story, this is actually the tale based on real-life drug smuggler Barry Seal. He was a TWA pilot, one of their youngest to command a 707. His skills made him incredibly good at the job, perhaps too good. The passion for the work he does drains quickly, and Seal finds himself tired of his life.

What follows is a story that's brash, entertaining and informative as hell. American Made is a prequel to the Iran-Contra affair, one that explains how the Contra came to Iran. Throw in an exceptional, should-be-career-changing performance by Tom Cruise and the end result is a movie every bit as addictive as the cocaine peddled throughout.

But let's talk about Cruise for a second. His focus on starring in stunt shows disguised as films have turned him into the American Jackie Chan. Outside of 2014's Edge of Tomorrow (also directed by Liman) it's been a hoard of disposable action pictures that are a good time at best. Let's not even talk about The Mummy either.

This Cruise though? He's so explosive here I hope he does dramas for the next ten years. Consider how nice it is to have a scene where police descend on Seal and actually capture him. No fight, no chase sequence, no sudden realization that Cruise's character is good at hand-to-hand combat. In fact, Barry even gets a tooth knocked out.

Cruise hasn't looked this vulnerable in years, and I forgot how good he can be in dramas. His singular determination, that crazy trait that powers him through numerous Mission: Impossible movies, is used here to portray a desperate man.

That toothy grin he's famous for? Throw in some shaggy hair over his face and he looks like an over-the-hill burnout. A good headline for this review would read "Doug Liman Makes Tom Cruise Great Again".

Let's go back to the plot. Seal is approached by CIA operative Monty (Domhnall Gleeson) for a top secret mission. He wants Barry to fly his plane over small bases and take pictures with his plane.

Sounds simple enough right? Seal's wife (Sarah Wright) thinks it's bullshit. I don't mention her name because it's an appropriate way to describe how she's treated like an afterthought for the entire film. Her opposition to Barry's work gives way because, well, I still don't know why. I highly doubt she saw the numerous bags of money lying around and thought that it was all obtained legally.

Seal's responsibilities increase throughout the late 70s and early 80s. He acts as a courier, delivering letters to Panama. The Medellin Cartel (the one that had Pablo Escobar) picks him up and convinces Barry to smuggle cocaine back to the US. Now he's made a deal with two devils.

His rise to smuggler and valued CIA informant is skillfully handled, with numerous montages and jump cuts to amusing shots. Cruise handles Seal like a true victim of temptation; at first dealing in trepidation before finally accepting the excess. It's a slow motion car-crash, and you're totally compelled.

So even when it all falls apart, thanks to his brother-in-law JB (Caleb Landry Jones), or the DEA, or a double-crossing Oliver North, you want to watch.

I would consider this a comedy (there's enough laughs here) that slowly becomes a very depressing drama. By the end of it Seal is a convict forced to do community service. Participating in a set-up of Escobar makes him a marked man, and he's forced to separate himself from the wife and kids.

This is the quietly tragic side that I enjoyed watching American Made explore. Seal lived the high life by playing both sides, but eventually both came back to reduce him to nothing. His final months were spent recording himself telling this story and traveling from motel to motel, waiting to be killed.

By the time it actually happened on February 19, 1986, Seal accepted his fate. I'm describing this like it's elegant, but the movie is so brash in it's making that I'll just call it ballsy poetry. That needs to become a phrase.

Published by Jagger Czajka