American Made, rated R
“Doing it for the good guys”, Tom Cruise shines as Barry Seal in a film based on true events that has some significant content issues for discerning viewers.
This film, based perhaps loosely on true events from 1978 to 1986, is a “truth is stranger than fiction” story, containing elements of true crime, comedy and thriller. Three-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise portrays Barry Seal, a one-time star pilot, in fact the youngest airline pilot in TWA history. But when we meet Seal, he is bored with the routine life of an airline pilot, even with his Cuban cigar smuggling business on the side.
Seal’s incredible story begins when he is approached by CIA agent Schafer, (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). He uses his knowledge of Seal’s smuggling as leverage to get him to fly covert missions for the government over Latin America countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Columbia to take spy photos from a fast, twin-engine plane. Soon, we see him engaged with the dangerous Medellin cartel, making buckets of money smuggling drugs into the U.S. Later we see him carrying Russian AK-47’s to the Contra rebels in Nicaraguan for the U.S. government.
Barry lives with wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen) and their three children on 2,000 acres the CIA provides them in Mena, Arkansas, complete with its own airport. That property will become a military training ground for some of the Contras he brings back with him. Soon, Barry and Lucy have more money than they know what to do with. In fact, they run out of places to hide it. Lucy may not know all of the details of Barry’s drug smuggling work, but we see her fully enjoying the fruits of it.
The film includes a series of videotaped confessions Seal made from motels in the mid-1980’s. In addition, there is news footage of Presidents Carter and Reagan along with Oliver Stone and others included.
Seal is not a very likeable character. He makes a lot of money and his greed comes through. He apparently will do just about anything for money. Let’s just say he doesn’t have a very good moral compass, though he does love his wife and children. Actually, the film does not portray any characters that viewers will care about.
This is a role that is seemingly made for Cruise, as he flashes his signature smile and is almost always seen with his aviator sunglasses. He also does his own stunts and flies a plane.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) reunites with Tom Cruise, who he worked with on 2014’s excellent Edge of Tomorrow. Liman’s father Arthur was the Chief Counsel for the Senate investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal and questioned Colonel Oliver North during the public hearings.
The screenplay is by Gary Spinelli. Cesar Charlone handles the cinematography, using a bouncing, shaky camera style. We see some excellent scenes of planes flying over jungles and the ocean. The film’s soundtrack includes a number of top 40 songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s, including songs by George Harrison, Linda Ronstadt and Charlie Rich. We also see items of a bygone era such as pay phones and pagers. The film had an estimated budget of $80 million.
The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, sexuality (between Seal and wife Lucy), and some nudity, which is played for laughs. It is Cruise’s first “R-rated” film since 2008’s Tropic Thunder. It features some excellent stunts and action from beginning to end.
The film is well-made and entertaining, though most likely a highly fictionalized and perhaps controversial version of actual events. The film implicates both Republicans and Democrats along the way. Unfortunately, the film also contains significant adult language and sexuality, and that may be enough to keep some discerning viewers away from this one.