Directed by: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen, E. Roger Mitchell, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda, Benito Martinez, Caleb Landry Jones, Mauricio Mejía and Jayma Mays
Run Time: 1h 55min
Genre: Action, Biography, Comedy
4 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
In this action, comedy based on the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot for TWA who starts taking pictures of drug smugglers for the CIA then become a drug smuggler himself, then become a… I’m getting ahead of myself. In American Made, Tom Cruise reunites with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Linman, who also directed the films, Swingers, Go, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity. He definitely knows how to put the comedy in action, not to mention the action in action, and him and Cruise pairing up to make this film is a truly winning combination. You’ll barely have a chance to take a breath watching the escapades Barry Seal gets into. The film is also very nostalgic in its presentation. As if to steal its cue from Tarantino, American Made is edited to look older on purpose to lend to the truth-telling it’s doing but also to keep up the fun. It certainly wasn’t wasted on the audience I watched it with. They couldn’t get enough.
While in a bar, Seal, unhappy and bored with his job as a commercial pilot, is approached by a member of the CIA, Monty ‘Schafer’ (Gleeson) who seems to know everything about Seal, especially about a little extra money-making scam he has going on. He could reveal it to the authorities or… Seal could work for them. Slimy Schafer wants Seal to fly above certain areas of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and capture photos of Commies in the middle of doing illegal acts. Seal is worried if it’s something safe. Schafer isn’t worried. Seal wonders if it’s legal. Schafer assures him it is. Americans are the good guys! This does little to make Seal feel better about the job but takes the offer. What he never really realizes, and this is important, is that he is not a member of the CIA much like an informant isn’t a police officer. Had he stopped to think about this, he, as he tells us several times in the film in a documentary style that will be explained later, would have passed.
Seal lands at an airstrip and finds himself a not so happy reception from Pablo Escobar (Mejía) and Jorge Ochoa (Edda). They, like everyone else he has run into of late, know everything about who he is and what he has been doing. So, they make him an offer he can’t refuse… not that he could. He doesn’t know how to turn down money, even when he can no longer find a place to put it. Escobar starts having him taking flights full of cocaine to the states for them. The scenes with Escobar are some of the most comical in the movie. This was just before Nancy Reagan hit the country with her ‘Just Say No’ campaign so when you find out who is working for who, it makes that slogan look like a contrived scam to appeal to the little people and she a useful tool to frighten U.S. citizens.
Barry also becomes a gunrunner for Panamanian dictator, Noriega. It’s quite interesting seeing how he’s wrapped up in this, too. Seal’s life gets complicated and he’s often nervous, so is the audience as they’re trying to keep up with the players, but that’s what makes this film so likable. There is a lot going on and you’re just there for the ride. Maps are made available to make it easier to understand. Seal and his wife are moved from Louisiana to Arkansas, in the middle of nowhere, where he is given his own hanger, home and hideaway. On his land, the military begins training members of the rebellion. The not so bright rebellion.
The entire cast of American Made is glorious. They make the film work and help you with the flip-flopping back and forth of the tale itself… of what Barry Seal really went through. With what’s going on today in politics, seeing what the American government had a hand in doing while jailing Americans for smoking a joint will have you wondering just exactly what happens behind the scenes. It may have you questioning things and could make you a bit uneasy but this is well told and entertaining. I highly recommend you don’t skip it. It’s good that this serious issue was presented to the public in the manner of an action/comedy. It needs to be seen and understood and though it is only based on the true story, the Iran-Contra affair is a good reminder that there is always a reason to question.