American Made: The Autonomy of Aesthetic in Action Movies

The+film+features+Tom+Cruise+as+the+protagonist%2C+Barry+Seal.
The film features Tom Cruise as the protagonist, Barry Seal.

The film features Tom Cruise as the protagonist, Barry Seal.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

The film features Tom Cruise as the protagonist, Barry Seal.

Lauren Brown, Staff Writer

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Through its use of narrations, shaky cameras, saturation and the “180-degree rule,” the unique cinematography in Doug Liman’s “American Made” adds style to the action, creating unique and eye-catching visuals. “American Made” is the story of a commercial airplane pilot who willingly throws himself into the chaotic world of the Central Intelligence Agencies (CIA), Colombian cartels, and South American revolutions. As the audience follows the protagonist through his reckless adventures, viewers may begin to experience turbulence—or even a little air sickness—that Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) experiences as he rakes in the frequent flier points while running from the law. This almost 4D experience is created thanks to the genius cinematography integrated into even the most mundane of scenes.

 

The man in charge of the cinematography of this mockumentary-styled action flick is none other than César Charlone, the artist behind “City of God” and “No Place on Earth.” A veteran to the fast-paced nature of action and war films, Charlone utilizes shaky, camcorder-like movements to signify the disorientation and chaos the character is experiencing. However, the scenes in which Charlone chose to use these shaky frames is what really sets this movie apart from other action scenes. While the camcorder effect is commonly saved for chase, high action, and explosive-filled scenes, Charlone utilizes these effects in domestic and slow scenes as well, emphasizing the unstable home life or conflicts that are more internal than external.

 

It is also important to note the saturation that is present in the film. While it may appear that the myriad of yellow and orange tones is simply an aesthetic choice, it can be hinted that this meant to signify the perspective of Barry Seal through his signature sunglasses. It is revealed at the end of the film that the narration that prevails throughout the movie is due to Barry talking into his camcorder while on the run from the Columbian cartel. This is significant because it provides evidence that every aspect of the cinematography—from the movements to the saturation—were all planned out to provide a narrative that is consistent with Barry’s descriptions from his point of view.

 

The “180-degree rule” is a filmmaking guideline that dictates where the camera is placed in order to minimize audience confusion towards the space the characters inhabit. In order to avoid the dizzying effect, the camera is often placed on one of the two halves of an imaginary circle. The axis runs through the character or characters and it is expected that the camera stays within that 180-degree side of this circle. “American Made” breaks this rule multiple times. While the 180-degree rule is put into place to avoid the confusions that comes with new surroundings, “American Made” embraces this distortion of setting and utilizes it in order for the audience to feel the confusion that Barry feels when he is thrown into unfamiliar situations. The audience’s lack of perception, and even dizziness, builds and supports the fast pace and dangerous world that Tom Cruise’s character resides in.

 

The stylistic choices “American Made” utilizes are what bring this movie above other similar action movies. Charlone’s choice to add aesthetic to this extreme and high-stakes movie proves that even the smallest of scenes can benefit from a little flair and style. Charlone challenges other cinematographers and directors to place themselves at a higher standard for their film’s style. This proves that adding an aesthetic twist on a scene will not take away the action, but enhance it.

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American Made: The Autonomy of Aesthetic in Action Movies