Script-O-Meter Rating: 4
Genres: Memoir/True Story/Drama/Adventure
A huge disappointment on many fronts, the film was partially saved by the iconic Tom Cruise, who usually can smooth the wrinkles out of a bad script.
First and foremost, there was a genre problem. When a writer takes a true story and fictionalizes some characters and /or dialogue, he gets a pass because in the name of Narrative Drive, changes or adaptations are necessary. But in the case of this story, the Hero is the Narrator/Storyteller with a major attitude problem that is never addressed. Instead of Drama/Memoir/True Story/Adventure as genres, the writer chose to write the Hero as an anti-Hero caught up in a black comedy. His narrative was therefore, enabling him to laugh sardonically at the situation into which he was thrown, with no accountability whatsoever on his part.
When a character is written this way, he is reactive as opposed to proactive. The plot is predictable: The Hero is in and out of more trouble; bad things are “happening” to him that are beyond his control; he can fix the bad things somehow, but they just keep happening. No matter what, the Hero victim keeps having bad things happen to him despite the fact that he’s a good guy always trying to roll with the punches. The Hero laughs at the craziness around him, as if he is above it. As a matter of fact, the victim Hero thinks this is all really a bad joke.
Secondly, due to the writing of a victim Hero and the predictability of the plot, another problem is that this character’s psychological/moral flaws and his internal “need” are not addressed. This problem could have been dealt with had there been a point of view character. The Hero’s wife could have fulfilled this role in the story. However, she is just a figurehead wife who stands by perplexed as to just what the Hero has gotten himself into. She is pregnant; she is lied to; she then becomes insanely rich; she wears fur coats and jewelry, all while her victim Hero husband travels the world with drug cartels and declines and finally is murdered.
The point of view character is a great way for the audience to get into the head of the Hero. She can say things like, “If you keep on this path, you are going to end up six feet under, honey. So stop. Cease and desist.” She can tell the audience about the moral decline of the Hero by trying to attack his moral decline. This enables the Hero to respond with his Goal: Amass a great fortune by tricking the system. The audience then can see how flawed he is.
Instead, the writer chose to have the victim Hero/ Narrator talk about the craziness in which he found himself entwined. This does not come off well. Another example of the audience not buying into a Hero touting his achievements would be, “Look at me! I’m a Hero. I’m winning.” To fix this inconsequential dialogue, a point of view character could say, “You are a Hero to us. I know you weren’t thinking about the Hero thing when you showed so much courage, but we are so proud of you!”
Despite the great flying sequences reminiscent of Top Gun and the good crafting of Opponents, there was not a Desire/Goal of Opponents throughout the story who wanted to block the Hero and prevent him from reaching his Desire/Goal. This problem with the script further decreased the Narrative Drive. The CIA character who aids and abets the Hero is the Fake Ally Opponent, who betrays the Hero. But there is no clear line for this character and we are not shown his flaws or motivations, so we are left to wonder as to why this character keeps fading in and out of the plot, much like the wife of the victim Hero.
When a writer does not portray motivation in a character in terms of psychological/moral flaws, there is no internal “need” that the character yearns for. Therefore, at the self-revelation moment, the audience has not gotten invested into the story. Even if a Hero doesn’t get a self-revelation at the end, the audience should get the self-revelation.
In the case of American Made, the plot has been written as a superficial facade, in the genre of dark comedy, which is the wrong genre for this story. Along with character crafting issues, the script misses the mark, even with the charisma of a Tom Cruise action Hero.