The true story of Barry Seal was unknown to me. I had to go and look up what the background of American Made was based on and it is pretty fascinating material. Doug Liman’s American Made stars Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who is caught smuggling in Cuban cigars by a shady CIA operative, Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Given an opportunity to take reconnaissance photos for America when the Sandinistas and the Contras were just getting started in the late 70’s. It would later become known as the Iran-Contra affair and would be a thorn in the side of the Reagan Administration and where Oliver North would become a national celebrity, of sorts.
The money Seal is offered is rather large, but he has a legitimate job with TWA, a wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright) with two children and one on the way. “This will be good for us,” Barry tells Lucy. Barry goes to work for Schafer full time and business was good; very good. But after a while drug lord, Pablo Escobar hears of this “cringo” who regularly flies through his territory and back to the United States. Seal is the approached by Escobar with an offer. The deal is, keep taking the pictures but take his drugs back to the states, land in Miami where the drugs will be picked up by someone else. Seal knows landing in Miami with a plane full of Cocaine is a sure fire way to get arrested. Seal agrees but convinces Escobar to let him drop the drugs into the swampland of Lousiana, instead. Escobar agrees.
As if Barry wasn’t into all of this deep enough, Schafer begins to have Seal fly guns to the Contras, take more pictures and Seal is still flying Escobar’s drugs back to America. Schafer then “expands” his operation by having Barry fly the rebels into Louisiana for training by the CIA and then flown back to Central America to fight the Sandinistas. But when the Contras are flown to America half of them run off, just glad to be in America, finally. It does not matter, though. The money for Barry is pouring in. He now has an entire town named after him, almost, an airfield with five other pilots and planes and the future is looking so bright, nothing can stop him, right?
American Made is one of Tom Cruise’s better films. He shows why he is a grade A performer. Even in wretched films like this summer’s ill-advised reboot of Universal’s The Mummy, Cruise gives every film his all. American Made is no different. His movie star good looks, million dollar smile and a convincing southern accent that is not overdone makes his performance spot on. Truth is he has enough swagger and charm for five American Made films. Sarah Wright is delightful as Lucy. She knows Barry is in over his head, but her love for him is true and she never gives up on him and she has plenty of chances to do so. Domhnall Gleeson is gleefully sleazy as Schafer but he has a look on his face that suggests he is cold and calculating.
Actually, all of the acting in American Made is superb even down to the supporting roles with Jesse Plemons as the local sheriff named Downing whose wife suspects Barry is up to no good and Lucy’s lazy, deadbeat brother JB, played with trashy zeal by Caleb Landry Jones. One look at him and you know he is trouble. First-time writer Gary Spinelli has clearly done his research for this material and has crafted a script that is funny, intelligent, observant and mysterious. Unless you read up on Barry Seal before you see the film, American Made will keep you riveted to your seat. Director Doug Liman, who has worked with Cruise on the underappreciated Edge of Tomorrow (otherwise known as Live! Die! Repeat!), keeps American Made moving and does not let the film get bogged down in too much detail. There has been some criticism that the tone of American Made is all over the map. Hogwash. American Made knows what it wants to do and director Doug Liman knows what he is doing. He has created some great films like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and one of my favorites, Swingers and all of them had different tones for each film. He is able to take characters and weave a crackling good story around them that is filled with energy. American Made is no different.
If I had any problems with the film is the final act which seems to be in a hurry to wrap the story up. The film clocks in at a good solid two hours, but the truth is, I could have sat for another thirty minutes for this film. I also was disappointed that film score composer Christophe Beck’s score is pretty minimal. He has worked with Liman on Edge of Tomorrow and is a tremendously talented composer, yet his music is sparse throughout the film. In fact, the actual soundtrack only has roughly six minutes of his score music. Otherwise, American Made is a captivating and engaging film and one of the better films this year. I think it will get lost in the shuffle by the Academy, but there is an Oscar-worthy performance by Cruise and another Oscar should be set aside for writer Gary Spinelli. American Made is solid entertainment from start to finish. I can even forgive Tom Cruise for a film like The Mummy.
American Made – ****1/2 out of 5
American Made – Rated R for nudity, language and violence
American Made – Run Time is 115 minutes
American Made is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.