He started his journey to movie-stardom in 1981 with a supporting role in the terrible 'Endless Love,' but since then he's become one of the most famous big-hitters - and arguably big-missers - working in Hollywood today. Yes, from creepy teenager to hotshot fighter pilot, emotional car-salesman to all-action super-spy, or sleazy bartender to obvious sponsor of Colgate Optic White, Tom Cruise has a face (and a set of teeth) that truly personifies the concept of a worldwide movie star.
Most recently he and his sparkling gnashers made it to our screens in 'The Mummy,' where he definitely delivered more of a miss than a hit performance in one of the biggest critical and financial bombs of the year so far. 'American Made (2017),' however - the latest film from 'The Bourne Identity' director Doug Liman who also worked with Cruise on 'Edge of Tomorrow' - looks set to be the better Tom Cruise movie of 2017 as it sends him back to the pilot's seat and us right into the era where he first made it to the movies himself.
Based on a true story - and as ever, "based on," really is the key phrase - we see Cruise play Barry Seal; a TWA pilot who's recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the communist threats in Central America. Here he also discovers other opportunities amidst the birth of the Medellin drug cartel, and being the dream-chasing guy that he is, soon ends up taking and landing a variety of politically-significant goods to and from the United States.
Now in a way, the appeal of this film is rather neatly summed up by one of these drop-off arrangements, as Liman treats the pacing and tone with a similar sensibility to that of Barry himself. Yes, much like the way our lead flies in quickly with a largely relaxed and unfurrowed brow, does some important stuff and then flies off again, the film equally deals the complex story with a light hand and a quick and snappy touch that turns it all into one hugely entertaining fly-by of a movie.
Perhaps the ease with which it whizzes through years of complex politics or plots is far from surprising given the experience of Doug Liman, but the fact he chooses a less serious and in-depth path is rather interesting as it certainly avoids getting bogged down, but also avoids delving too deep either. Instead, whether it's the most interesting route to take or not, the focus is very much on the personality of Barry himself and all the themes and stories serve as a suggestive backdrop to power the more personal narrative, rather than the other way around.
For that to work of course though, you need a captivating lead performance, and thankfully this time Tom Cruise delivers as he brings that big, glinting, American smile to add even more life and soul to Barry's big adventure.
In many ways then this role seems to be written for Cruise as he ticks the boxes of a stupidly ambitious, amusing American hero, but he actually does an even better job than you might expect - even hearing him narrate large chunks of significant history as though he's discussing last night's football results annoys far less than it should thanks to how much you're captivated by his performance.
And in fact, that's a rather neat way of talking about the movie as a whole. It probably takes itself with too much of a pinch of salt and dodges the reality and depth of the situation, but the amount that Cruise's smile and the snappy direction keep you hooked and keep you smiling means you really don't mind at all. It's a fun movie, and despite the obvious backdrop and the occasional addressing of important themes, it's far more concerned with wrapping you up in a good, tense experience that you can enjoy.
All in all then, 'American Made' may leave your mind fairly quickly, but what's important - and what the film clearly cares about - is (cue obligatory aviation-based puns now) how quickly it flies in. Its snappy lightness and focus on character will whip you up in a whirlwind of fun, and even if it steers around some of what could have made it more profound, a magnetic performance from Tom Cruise and easy direction from Doug Liman safely land a real win.
'American Made,' then is by no means the best film of the year, but it's certainly one if the best out at the moment, and for all of its joys it certainly deserves some recognition. If nothing else, it at least proves that Tom Cruise isn't done yet.