3 out of 5
American Made is a film about Barry Seal — if you lived and were aware of things going on surrounding the drug war in the 70’s and 80’s — then his name might ring a bell. If you believe everything the movie purports as truth, versus what the government has allowed us to know for sure — Barry was a man hired by the CIA to help the Contras fight the Sandinistas in Central America. While doing this work for his country, he straddled the line of good and evil, and also became a drug runner for the Medellin Cartel (featuring none other than Pablo Escobar as one its leaders). This then evolved into delivering weapons via the CIA to the Contras — which they traded for drugs with the Cartel which then devolved into what we now know as the “Iran-Contra Affair.” That whole mess introduced us to people such as Colonel Oliver North, General Manuel Noriega and eventually, President Ronald Reagan’s famous “I don’t recall” statements. Or something like that.
Having been fairly young during those years, I don’t remember everything that happened — but it’s still there, and I remember how serious it all was. So to see it through the eyes of one of the “little people” working as a cog in the machine was very interesting to me. I’ll leave how much of it is an accurate portrayal of history to the historians — but as someone who enjoys movies — this one entertains. Tom Cruise, fresh off of what was probably his worst critically received movie, “The Mummy,” does what Tom Cruise does in my opinion. Even when his movies are supposedly bad — they’re still generally entertaining and he delivers a fine performance in “American Made,” even if he bears pretty much zero resemblance to the real life Barry Seal.
The story as you discover through the film is told in retrospect — via a camcorder that Seal uses to document his side of the story after everything falls apart — both with the government and the drug cartel. Though I imagine that the life Seal was leading was truly filled with money and adventure — it’s hard to imagine it was as care free as the movie portrays. Working with the government and people like Escobar couldn’t have been easy and stress free. And as much as Cruise does a good job making you actually like the guy, and laugh along with his exploits during the movie — it’s difficult to set aside the fact that the man poured drugs into the country over a period of several years, and helped establish a drug empire in the United States, from which the country will likely never recover. He helped the CIA — yes — which wasn’t really successful in their attempts assist the Contras — but he also betrayed his country when he turned into a drug mule. This wasn’t a good guy. The movie however, depicts him and his family as just lovable people who happened to kind of just run into this deal, and went wherever the wind blew. Again, the film is entertaining, fast paced and even very funny in certain places — but the backdrop belies the seriousness of what was going on.
As I said, if you lived during this time in history — you might have an interest in seeing the movie so you can view it through the eyes of Barry Seal. Just remember — it’s a movie — not a documentary. Even if you weren’t around during that time, or you don’t remember much of it — Tom Cruise’s performance is fun and the film itself is a light hearted portrayal of some serious events. The supporting cast is good and I was never bored watching the film unwrap itself on the screen. I’m not sure the story is strong enough to carry it to box office gold — but you won’t leave feeling like the movie was a waste of time either.