As a pilot who works for the good guys and the bad guys in the 1980s drug and gun trade, Cruise is electrifying

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“American Made” is an American blast, a lively 1980s crime caper powered by a wily performance by Tom Cruise.

Cruise, used to playing the hero role, gets to flex in another way in this based-on-a-true-story tale. He plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot turned CIA operative turned drug runner turned gun runner turned White House ally. Seal worked the good guys, the bad guys, his own family and everyone in between, building a cash empire that grew so large there was nowhere for it go but down. Seal seemed to know that, but it was all such a wild ride he didn’t know how to get off. Nor did he want to get off.

Cruise plays Seal as cocky and mischievous, smart enough to know all the angles but dumb enough to get in so far over his head that he essentially buried himself. By the end, he’s got just about every three-letter agency in the U.S. on his tail, along with some foreign drug cartels with an ax to grind. But he’s able to keep his cool. Hauled into the Attorney General’s office in Arkansas, a smile creeps across his face, even as teams of agents stand by to watch him go down. But he knows better, and he gets the last laugh.

Director Doug Liman, who also directed Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow” (as well as its forthcoming sequel), treats this all like an irreverent “Goodfellas,” and he keeps what could be a complicated story from getting tangled up in itself. Domhnall Gleeson, busy this season (he’s also in “mother!” and the upcoming “Goodbye Christopher Robin”) turns in his best performance to date as a shady CIA man who uses and later abandons Seal.

The story at times feels too wild, too crazy to be true, but that’s what makes it worth telling. “American Made” is a real whopper.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘American Made’

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity

Running time: 115 minutes

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