Saturday, 26 August 2017


Universal Pictures

When TWA pilot Barry Seal, who's already dealing in contraband Cuban cigars, is recruited by the CIA in 1978 to fly photographic reconnaissance missions over Communist-threatened South America, he discovers a knack for field work.

But it's a gateway drug to, well, drugs when he's enlisted by the soon-to-be infamous cartel, operated by Pablo Escobar, to fly plane loads of cocaine into the US.

Rather than be thrown in jail when arrested, Seal's CIA contact (Domhnall Gleeson) decides Barry is the perfect wingman to fly arms to the Contra, and bring them back to the US for training. Bags and bags of cash, as well as a big old adrenaline rush, are Barry's reward.

Pretty soon he and his pretty blonde wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright not required to do too much more than fulfil that description) are living the high life, albeit in small-town Arkansas, where it becomes abundantly clear that you can buy everything but class.

American Made is about the American dream, corrupted, as always, by greed and hubris. If he's not flying too close to the sun in this Icarus-like tale, Cruise's Seal is sailing too close to the wind; legally and morally.

Doug Liman was wise to deploy the star power of Cruise (they worked together on 2014's terrific sci-fi, Edge of Tomorrow) to make his anti-hero so gosh darn likeable. (Not so wise to deploy those annoying camera angles and movements.) Barry doesn't want to hurt, or disappoint anyone: he wants to provide for his family, perform to the best of his abilities, and have some fun while he's doing it.

How much of Seal's exploits as depicted here are factual is probably contentious but American Made, penned by Gary Spinelli, provides some intermittent fun (and occasional political commentary) while playing entertainingly with the facts. Much like Barry Seal himself (who recounts his fantastical tale via a series of to-VHS-camera tapes).

And if nothing else, it's a reminder not only of Tom Cruise's ability to carry almost any film -- he truly is one of the last old school movie stars -- but also of his comic abilities. As he approaches 60, and his action man heroics become too much for his body to handle (or the audience to swallow), he would be wise to seek out projects and directors that can tap into this seemingly rich deposit. That's an adventure you just know Barry Seal would've jumped at.

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