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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "American Made" one of Cruise's best performances

Sep 29, 2017 06:35PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Tom Cruise in American Made - © 2017 Universal Pictures.

American Made (Universal)

Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.

Starring Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Lara Grice, Frank Licari, Jed Rees, Caleb Landry, Connor Trinneer.

Written by Gary Spinelli.

Directed by Doug Liman.


Drugs, man. Apparently, there’s nothing more “American” than the war on drugs, and there are plenty of TV shows and movies that gravitate toward the more glamorous and seedy aspects of the plague that captivated everyone’s attention during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. American Made is the latest film to serve up a new version of facts surrounding Barry Seal, a man who worked for the CIA, DEA and drug cartels in South America.

Tom Cruise portrays Seal, a malcontent TWA pilot who is recruited by CIA agent “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson) to fly reconnaissance missions over suspected communist units in Nicaragua using a sparkling new twin-engine plane. Schafer eventually gives Seal new duties, including paying off Manuel Noriega for intelligence on communists in the region. Seal takes to his new gig very well, at first keeping it secret from his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright). When he begins to feel underpaid, Seal looks for new opportunities to increase his income. At about the same time, the Medellin cartel leaders (including Pablo Escobar) force Seal into running cocaine out of Colombia, which gives the daring pilot a really fat pay raise, along with a lot more risk. After getting arrested in Colombia, Schafer offers Seal another opportunity: to run guns to the Contras out of a secret air base in Arkansas. Seal makes the best of his opportunity, playing all sides against each other; guns for Contras, drugs for the cartels and intelligence for the CIA. With increased wealth, Seal’s activities become more difficult to hide, and eventually every law enforcement agency in the country comes calling, including the ATF, DEA, FBI and the Arkansas State Police. Just when it seems the party is over, Col. Oliver North summons Seal to the White House and offers immunity in exchange for intelligence on Escobar and his pals as justification for his Iran-Contra Affair. Escobar eventually finds out, and Seal’s fate is sealed.

American Made is a quality film about a very messy subject, and audiences should take most of the “history” in the movie with a very large grain of salt. While it’s true Seal was involved as a DEA and CIA informant, the jury is still out on who recruited whom, and whether Seal was enticed or forced to work on behalf of the U.S. government. I suppose when it comes to spy stuff, you can take the low road on facts, since they are so very hard to come by. 

Even so, American Made is a story about a criminal and it’s a movie that is designed to make you feel sympathy for him and his family. Never mind the lives lost or ruined by the drug trade because, hey, it’s Tom Cruise (much like Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of a corrupt businessman in Wolf of Wall Street). I find it more and more difficult to ignore the glamorization of such unscrupulous figures, and even more wary that a whole new generation will view their exploits in movies as fact.

All fuzzy ethics and history aside, Cruise delivers one of his best performances of late, and Doug Liman’s directorial skill for action makes American Made a mostly pleasant film experience about a very unpleasant part of history.

Don’t do drugs, kids.

American Made Trailer