Criminal activity always seems oh so sexy, doesn’t it dear readers? But I swear it isn’t until the bitter end of the barrel that the people who live this way become regretful of their actions. A tale as old as time, but an entertaining one nonetheless.
American Made (2017)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia, Fredy Yate Escobar
Director: Doug Liman
released on blu-ray January 2, 2018
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Audience Score 79%
The Guardian: ***/*****
Doug Liman is an American director and producer. He’s made Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, and The Wall, but he is best known for Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, Fair Game, and Edge of Tomorrow – because those last five movies are good and the others are just eh. Friends with Jon Favreau, he made Swingers for $250,000 and it made $4.4 million, launching the careers of its actors and Liman.
He also shot that commercial for Nike of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his club repeatedly before driving it. Just so you know that he is capable of both brilliance and drivel, he also made the garbage fire starring Hayden Christensen, known simply as Jumper.
Thankfully American Made is an excellent film.
Courtesy of Wikipedia…
In the late 1970s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a pilot for commercial airline TWA, is contacted by CIA case officer, calling himself Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). He asks Seal to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over Central America using a small plane with cameras installed.
Later in the 1970s, Schafer asks Seal to start acting as a courier between the CIA and General Noriega (Alberto Ospino) in Panama. During a mission, the Medellín Cartel picks Seal up and asks him to fly cocaine on his return flights to the United States. Seal accepts and starts flying the cartel’s cocaine to Louisiana. The CIA turns a blind eye to the drug smuggling, but the DEA tracks Seal down. To avoid the authorities, Schafer moves Seal and his family to a remote town in Arkansas called Mena.
Later, Schafer asks Seal to run guns to the Nicaraguan Contras based in Honduras, Central America. Seal soon realizes that the Contras are not serious about the war and starts trading the guns to the cartel. The CIA set up a Contra training base in Mena and Seal flies the Contras in, but many of them escape as soon as they arrive.
Seal’s freeloading brother-in-law JB (Caleb Landry Jones) moves in, needing a job. Eventually, he starts stealing money from the Seals and is caught by Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons) with a briefcase full of laundered cash and is arrested. Seal gives him money and a plane ticket to Bora Bora so he can leave. JB demands weekly cash and insults Lucy. Barry tries to chase him but JB’s car explodes; it is implied Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) had JB’s car rigged with explosives, killing him so that he would not snitch.
Eventually, the CIA shuts the program down and abandons Seal, who is arrested by the FBI, DEA, ATF and Arkansas State Police simultaneously. Seal escapes prosecution by making a deal with the White House, which wants evidence the Sandinistas are drug traffickers. They ask Seal to get photos that tie the Medellín Cartel to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Seal manages to get the pictures, but the White House releases them as propaganda against the Sandinistas. Seal is prominently shown in the pictures, which leads to his arrest, and to the cartel plotting revenge.
Seal is convicted but given a light sentence, 1,000 hours community service for the Salvation Army. Moving from motel to motel fails as a way of remaining in hiding because the community service is performed at the same building every night. Assassins sent by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and the cartel easily locate Seal and kill him; the CIA then destroys all documentation and other evidence to avoid being implicated in drug smuggling. But in spite of this Herculean effort at covering everything up the CIA still becomes embroiled in the infamous Iran–Contra affair.
This is not a film of historical accuracy, the real Barry Seal was an obese man, who got his start smuggling marijuana and eventually upgrading to cocaine with the Medellin Cartel. He was not kidnapped by the Cartel, and he didn’t meet them in person until many years later, and he definitely didn’t crash land in suburbia. But that doesn’t stop if from being incredibly entertaining and well crafted to emulate the life that Seal led.
Tom Cruise always oozes charm, but this film just might be one of his better performances in the past couple of years. Yes he does great things in the Mission Impossible franchise, but something about working Liman gets that right mix of crazy and fun (read: Edge of Tomorrow). It’s a movie about drugs, guns, and a soldier of fortune, and it all works with the handycam voiceovers Seal supplies.
Pros: It looks like it was filmed in the 1980s, and the cheeriness of the film helps offset the grim nature of it’s subject matter, and the eventual death of Seal. Bonus points for Domhnall Gleeson and Sarah Wright as supporting cast, they do everything to elevate Cruise and play off him perfectly.
Cons: The peril that Barry Seal faced running drugs and guns never truly seems real on the screen, you don’t believe he’s in danger, until he actually is. Pablo Escobar doesn’t seem that scary either, and we all know better.
Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes
Points of Interest: The man Barry speaks to in the hallway is George W. Bush, son of Vice President George W. H. Bush.. The title originally began filming under the title Mena. No one actually takes any cocaine in the movie, unless you count Tom Cruise wearing it after the crash.
It’s playful but shallow, and that’s where the movie struggles to maintain a perfect level of escapism, but if you can ignore the historical inaccuracies, and many won’t even bother to look into it, then you’ll very likely enjoy yourself watching this flick. It’s a period piece that sets a good standard for what a late summer blockbuster should look like.
In short, yes I think you should watch American Made. Tom Cruise still has lots of star power to offer when he gets handed the right roles, and Doug Liman does an excellent job recreating the world leading up to the Iran-Contra scandal.
And for even more fun… you should watch my solo Watch Culture video review of The LEGO Batman Movie! I’ve got lots of love for this movie from 2017… so much so that I did both a blog post and then came back for the video version. Check it out! And don’t forget to leave a comment, subscribe and share!
I’ll see you tomorrow with my first School Of Thoughts post (formerly known as Wisdom Wednesdays).