THIS, SURPRISINGLY EXCITING, well-made and absolutely compelling movie comes with an outstanding pedigree: the director is Dough Lyman, the man who introduced us to Jason Bourne; and the exec producer is Brian Glazer, who produces Ron Howard’s movies. Oh, and it stars Tom Cruise. And Cruise is absolutely (surprisingly even) compelling as the cocky, not terribly bright, high flying low life who finds himself way over his head as a drug dealing, gun running CIA operative caught up in the seedy arrangements that the world came to know as the Iran-Contra affair.
Supposedly based on a real story, and the diaries compiled by him, it tells the tale of a hot shot TWA pilot, Barry Seal, who in the 80’s, is caught by the DEA (in the person of Domhall Gleeson from “the Revenant”) smuggling cigars. He’s blackmailed by them to use his talents for the national good: to fly undercover and take photos of covert guerilla and drug activities in Latin America; and he’s so good at this that he’s promoted to being the CIA bag man to Noriega. That ‘harmless’ activity only lasts a short while before Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar and their newly formed Medellin Cartel force him (in exchange for his life) to start flying for them. It’s a good gig: to use CIA aircraft under cover of the CIA while also running drugs (and raking in suitcases of cash) for the cartel.
But this isn’t a case of bad guy (cigar smuggling) turned good guy (working for the CIA) turned bad again (running drugs for the Colombians). The twists and turns get ever more complicated. The good guys turn out to be as morally compromised as the bad. For them the ends (whatever those are) justify the means; and we see the wink and nod acceptance of Seal’s drug dealing along with the pious footage of Nancy Reagan urging the nation to “Just say no”. Talk about moral equivalency.
Through the use of news footage, Liman seems to suggest (very strongly) that the interconnections between the drug barons, the Sandinistas, the Contras, the CIA, Bush, Reagan, Clinton and, of course our out of his depth, but by now fabulously wealthy aviator, are thoroughly interwoven.
It’s just “based on a true story”. But Liman makes a good case that though the Hollywood drama might be ‘mere’ fiction, the bones of the plot are as solid as they are sordid.
If you liked the Netflix series “Narcos”, you’ll love this. Drugs, money, and corruption! (Not much sex. It is after all, Tom Cruise).
Liman (who Matt Damon refused to work with again after “The Bourne Identity”) has worked with Cruise before: in Cruise’s last halfway decent film: “Edge of Tomorrow”. This is clearly a partnership that works for the two of them. He’s managed to capitalize on Cruise’s annoying “look at me, aren’t I cute” smile and make it work for the plot. He’s also managed to neutralize Cruise’s self-conscious over acting. Just as well as Cruise is in every scene. It’s totally his movie, and boy does he carry it. Here is the world’s A list actor, finally earning the accolade.
It’s not a particularly deep movie. Once he’s mapped out the parallel amoralities of the US Government and the cartels, he runs out of (intellectual) road.
But, that said, this is for me the surprise movie of the season
AMERICAN MADE: Doug Liman. With: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhall Gleeson. Writer: Gary Spinelli. Cinematographer: César Charlone