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American Made (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

American Made


Starring Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejía, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons, Jayma Mays, Lola Kirke, William Mark McCullough, E. Roger Mitchell, Robert Farrior and Cuyle Carvin.

Screenplay by Gary Spinelli.

Directed by Doug Liman.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 115 minutes. Rated R.

I should preface this review with the following statement: I am incapable of feeling any empathy for people involved in the illegal drug trade. For sure, this is a conflict of interest in viewing and reviewing a movie where the main character is a drug (and arms) smuggler.

Regardless of a character’s intentions and/or motive, the end result has led to the destruction of far too many lives. I find it ridiculous and insulting when the entertainment industry paints these destroyers as glamorous, or worse, as victims. I brought my teenage daughter with me to act as my voice of balance, to keep my final review from being swayed by my bias.

To my pleasant surprise, my concern was (mostly) unwarranted and I left the screening super entertained. Gary Spinelli has written a very funny screenplay with a slick, reckless main character entrenched in crazier late 70’s/early 80’s history than Forrest Gump.

All of the scandal that covered our papers – the Contras, the Medellin Drug Cartel, President Reagan and Ollie North – oh yah, it’s in here.  And our pilot/smuggler is unapologetic and keeps getting away with it all… until he doesn’t.

Going into the theatre, we knew that the movie was based on the true story of Barry Seal. We turned to Google for details on his background story.

While we waited for Tom Cruise, who portrayed Barry, to waltz onto the screen, we knew that he would wind up leaving his commercial airline pilot job to work for the CIA. We also knew that he would be working for a huge, Colombian, drug cartel. We even knew how his drug-running career would come to an end.

These details by no means prepared us for the degree of trouble that Barry got himself into by giving new meaning to the term “multi-tasking” – and all before the age of cell phones and the internet.

This truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story is centered on videos that Barry made when he knew that he was coming to the inevitable end to his story. The movie uses situational anxiety and tension to its advantage. Every so often you’d watch a little clip of Barry talking into camera, telling some unknown person about what he was up to in his travels.

You don’t know what exactly happened, but you know that some time before December 1985 everything will hit the fan and fall to pieces. He ticks off his version of his story, event by event. With each video shot, we watch the dates ticking down.

Tom Cruise is in his element portraying Barry Seal. The bad-boy grin that we’ve grown to love over the decades is well matched to this irreverent character. Cruise is at his best playing a charismatic jerk that you don’t want to like. He never pushes you to like him. His real-life aviation experience plays well with this role, leading to exciting aerial moments – take offs, landings, and inflight tomfoolery.

His wife, Lucy (sharply played by Sarah Wright) is strong, beautiful and resourceful. She is clearly in love and willing to fight for her family, but never blinded by his behavior and risk taking. She goes along with the new lifestyle and makes it work for her needs.

Then there is Lucy’s brother, JB, who earns the sigh that comes after his first mention by Barry. Caleb Landry Jones is really great at playing the irritating, troublesome little brother, who has been given free reign through life to get away with woefully ignorant behavior. He is annoying and stereotyped, and you can’t help but laugh at the trouble you saw coming before he did.

This is a movie that you are going to want to see on the big screen for the visuals, sound and effects. The story was believable, even in its paranoid insanity. It has made me want to know more about this precarious time in our Nation’s history. Its quick pace, humor and tension kept both my daughter and I entertained throughout its nearly two-hour runtime. I am certain that this will be a movie that we watch again and again.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: September 29, 2017.


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