AMERICAN MADE (director: Doug Liman; screenwriter: Gary Spinelli; cinematographer: César Charlone; editor: Andrew Mondshein; music: Christophe Beck; cast: Tom Cruise (Barry Seal), Dombnall Gleeson (Monty Schafer), Sarah Wright Olsen (Lucy Seal), Mauricio Mejía (Pablo Escobar), Alejandro Edda (Jorge Ochoa), Alberto Ospino (Manuel Noriega), Robert Farrior (Oliver North), Jesse Plemons (Sheriff Downing), Jayma Mays (Dana Sibota), Caleb Landry Jones (JB), Lola Kirke (Judy Downing); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Brian Oliver/Kim Roth/Tyler Thompson; Universal; 2017)
Great storytelling and a playfully great performance by Cruise make this one of the star’s better films. Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz Writer Gary Spinelli bases this entertaining political thriller and character study on a true story, but embellishes the facts with fiction. Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity”/”Jumper”) keeps the action moving at a swift pace and keeps it lively as a black comedy, as he tells of the rise and fall of an opportunistic Louisiana-born rogue pilot named Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). He’s involved in a risky covert government operation that includes spying, drug running, money laundering and gun-running. The CIA, in 1978, hires the former bored but hotshot family-man TWA pilot and Cuban cigar smuggler Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) as a secret agent to aid in the war on the communist threat in Central America. He’s recruited by the shady but smooth-talking agent Monty Schafer (Dombnall Gleeson), who offers him his own fastest in the world twin-engine Cessna and a lucrative monetary deal to participate in an illegal government operation. Seal’s first assignment is to photograph left-wing anti-government rebel locations in El Salvador and Honduras. A framing device of a video confession by Seal is used throughout. It explains how he operated and became rich smuggling cocaine for the soon-to-be Medellin cartel and its notorious leader Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía), and how when he got busted as a drug smuggler his CIA handlers set him up with the cover of a legit business at the couple of thousand acre airport in Mena, Arkansas, he would now own. In exchange Seal would be a bagman for the corrupt Colonel Noriega (Alberto Ospino) in Panama, delivering intel he gave the CIA about the commies in Central America. The CIA then ups the ante by having Seal in 1980 deliver guns to the Contra rebels, who were illegally supported by the new sheriff in town, Reagan, in their guerrilla war in Nicaragua against the communist Sandanistas. The failed gun-running operation of AK-47s to the unwilling to fight Contras would later make way for the more perverse operation by Ollie North (Robert Farrior) that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. Meanwhile the fun-loving and materialistic minded Seal is told by Monty if he gets away with smuggling the drugs for the cartel, he should know that he’s at least on the side of the good guys. During this time his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) still believes he’s working for TWA, that is until she has to move with the kids in the middle of the night from Baton Rouge to Mena and it dawns on her that hubby is into something illegal. Things begin to unravel for him with both the Colombian drug lords and all the conflicting government agencies involved, as Seal plays both sides against the middle and it becomes apparent he’s taking great risks for himself by dealing with so many dangerous and shifty people. Great storytelling and a playfully great performance by Cruise make this one of the star’s better films. Liman interweaves real news footage into the story, that adds to the authenticity. My major complaint is not in its entertainment value as a star vehicle, but in its realpolitik presentationin how lightly the filmmaker takes the morally compromised Seal’s dubious actions and how Liman almost turns a blind eye to the dark side of our government and how morally corrupt are all those unnamed big shots involved in these devious actions. Yet it still shows enough of the treachery involved and how poisoned the American Dream can become for those who take a wrong turn.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”