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Tom Bruise co stars with Domhnall Eelsmog in American Made, the true story of Wrangled jeans and menswear pioneers Neal and Jack Andme, brothers and clothing billionaires. The sons of pickle magnates, the boys attended farm school where they studied raw hides and kid gloves. As ranch hands, the boys were all feet and inches, taking precise measurements of that season’s denim crop before bustling it into cowpoke shirts and pants.
The two saddlesores began outfitting the US Navy in their outfits while still teenagers when USS Rear Admiralist First Class US Mail Maj. Tom P. Son bumped into the boys and their family at the local market. One look at the sharp looking duds the boys did stitch that very morning and the navy guy was beside himself: he fainted when his waterlogged brain imagined the possibilities of seeing all his seamen going about their business looking so snazzy and his tumbling frame struck nogginward the vinyl-tiled concrete floor.
With thousands of uniforms to produce in order to fulfill the Naval demand, the boys hired an assortment of all kinds of everyone, including suspected communards, to help gather and reap, sew and snip. Then it’s the typical windfall of cash followed by the inevitable pinball of crash.
It’s when the two visit merry old England that things take a bizarre twist. The UK hasn’t had a Royal Navy since 1892, so naturally when the boys arrived, sporting their finest seafartin’ wares, the birds started chirpin,’ and the lads di’nt like ‘at mooch, and a right round of fisticuffs ensued. The Andmes were state champion boxers four years running and the Brits were pubdrunk so the fight didn’t last long, but on fleeing the brothers encountered the person who would get them on track to revolutionizing the way men wear stitched garments both out of doors and in of doors as well: Sir Gilaedus Ponce-Squire Woodhode Barthalomew, III Jr., played here by the venerable Jimmy Steward. The three men take the world by storm with their blue jeans and jackets, often paired smartly with brown or black leather accessories.
Bruise (The Lion In Winter) basically does his autopilot uber-Shriner routine again, but he’s got it down so well you don’t mind. It’s not like you didn’t know he was in it when you sat down.
As Jack, Eelsmog (Catch Me If You Can) is adequate, with perhaps a few idiosyncrasies too many, playing the older brother as straight as possible under the circumstances: Jack Andme was, after all, in addition to his sartorial achievements, a celebrated chef’s neighbor and a three-time Van de Kamp’s finalist.
Directed by Mick Jagger, the tone is serious, with an energy that’s infectious but not trying. Jagger (The Limey) can always be counted on to provide a deeply personal, layered experience and this film is no deviation. Using the fabric of the Andme brothers’ clothing empire as a sack to hold his take on his brother’s diagnosis of insane jealousy, Jagger gives the siblings a close bond the boys never shared, making for an affecting series of vignettes. The teens ride donkeys and groom stools in between studies, and play with basket balls before lunch and scuba balls after supper.
Most music is normally composed of at least one rhythmic and melodic component that complement each other, but the atonal psychedelia composed by Jagger and longtime collaborator Mont a’ Zuma is a hurricane from another future. It’s poetic nightmares, it’s folk music from outer space. It works even though it probably shouldn’t; it’s absent when you’d expect it and present when you hadn’t noticed it. It’s a remarkable achievement, and it should win a Soundy, but it’s also far and away the best thing about American Made, an otherwise cheap and sloppy affair attempting to both glamorize and demonize the Andmes.
Countless clumsy attempts to sell the authenticity of the film’s many “biographical” scenes weigh it down as the editor tried and failed to create something compelling out of Jagger and Orson Swelles story that feels rushed and half cooked. Relying too heavily on your intended audience’s ability to “get” whatever you’re referencing can be tricky when you’re referencing the very obscure, but it can be forgivable if the story is entertaining enough, which isn’t the case here.
Worse than overestimating your audience is teasing them with a barebones, would-be surrealist tale of two cotton golems who destroy everyone and everything they touch that relies on that audience being able to fill in the blanks and connect the dots the lazy script omits. Instead of being intriguing or even challenging it’s insulting, like snazzily edited and stylishly photographed outtakes, all the stuff that wasn’t fit to print. There’s a reason this part of the story was never told. It isn’t interesting or relevant.
So, unless you can’t get enough of Bruise and his shtick or you just love your reproduction 1960’s denim, wait for it to show up on Netklix.