The “action/adventure” phase of Tom Cruise’s career continues in this week’s American Made. Directed by Doug Liman, the movie casts Cruise in the true story of Barry Seal, an everyday guy who’s recruited by the CIA to run drugs on behalf of a cartel as part of a covert operation.
Seal, a natural hustler and fast-talker, is a perfect fit for this assignment, able to talk his way out of any situation, while alternatively relying on the resources of either the cartel or CIA, depending on the situation. So he’s living the high life while acting as both patriot and criminal, able to enjoy the benefits of both employers.
Cruise walks toward the camera with a bag spilling out money in his hand and a cocky smile on his face. “It’s not a felony if you’re doing it for the good guys” reads the copy at the top, building the expectation that the story will live right on the edge of legality. A cool red-striped design behind him shows the criminals his actions bring him in contact with, the plane he’s going to be flying and his worried-looking wife. It’s a cool design that, because there’s even a bit of attention being paid to how art works, sells a pretty appealing movie.
The first trailer opens by showing Seal being accosted mid-air by the DEA and forced to land on a suburban street before beating a hasty getaway. We then flashback to see him as a regular airline pilot who’s recruited by the CIA to run some very questionable shipments into some rough areas. He’s really good at this and so operations expand, but so does the scrutiny given to him and the stakes of what he’s doing. That not only causes tension with his wife but also leads to him being at the wrong end of a rifle more times than he might be comfortable with.
It’s a fast, loose and fun trailer that shows how much style director Doug Liman has when he wants to. Cruise is more appealing here than he has been in at least a few years because he’s not trying to be all brow-furrowing serious but because he’s given a chance to bring his natural charisma and charm to bear. It’s not just about him running, it’s about a character that lives on the edge of danger and that’s a Cruise we don’t see too often these days.
Online and Social
When you load the official website you’re promised “The sky is never the limit.” In the upper left is a prompt to buy tickets while in the bottom right there’s a small video player just above links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
In the upper right of the main page is a button encouraging you to “Fly With Barry.” That opens up an interactive map where you can explore the routes he took and the missions he was engaged in. It’s a cool way to dive into the real story that inspired the movie.
Back to the main page, scroll down and after a few images and graphics you get to the “About” section that has a brief synopsis along with a cast and crew list. The “Characters” section just has a still along with who the actor playing the real-life character is.
“Photos” has some production stills and the poster you can scroll through, while “Videos” has the trailer and a couple featurettes that take you inside the production or offer insights into the real Barry Seal.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The trailer, or at least parts of it, were used as pre-roll ads on YouTube that play out the unbelievable nature of the story, which is presented as fast and loose. Other pre-roll spots included a featurette that focused on Cruise’s enthusiasm for doing his own stunts. Social media ads used clips from the trailer as well.
Media and Publicity
Liman apparently sought Gleeson out for the movie, citing the actor’s work ethic as a big reason for casting him. The director also spoke about how Cruise did all his own flying, a variation on the “does many/all of his own stunts” theme that often accompanies his movies, meant to prove the actor’s continued youth and vitality despite the fact that he’s 55.
Oddly, at least at this point, there’s no major presence by Cruise himself in the publicity campaign. Instead his role has been limited to featurettes and official media like this one, which keep him on-script and don’t open him up to unpredictable questions or audience interactions. That might be because of the increased scrutiny Scientology is under at the moment or because of a lawsuit over the deaths of two pilots during production that he’s named in. Whatever the reason, it’s odd to have a star of his magnitude confined to the sidelines.
As we’ve seen a few times in the last month, this is being sold as a middle-of-the-road adventure-filled comedic drama featuring a huge star. It promises the audience a rollicking good time following the story of someone few are likely to be already familiar with but which promises exotic locations, drugs and a lavish lifestyle courtesy of illegal activity. It’s positioned as escapist entertainment.
The combination of a limited marketing campaign – just one poster and just one trailer for a Tom Cruise movie! – and a publicity push that didn’t include the star almost at all make it a lackluster overall effort, though, and one that the public might see through. There’s some good stuff here to be sure but I can’t escape the notion there’s a lack of faith betrayed by the marketing. Clearly being in the Tom Cruise business is still a good call, but for some reason the studio is a bit gun-shy it seems.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.