Neat Ideas Guest Reviewer: Max Turner
For one hour and fifty-five minutes, you can forget all your troubles and immerse yourself in this unbelievable true story about a TWA pilot turned part time CIA informant, part time drug trafficker. Set in the 80s, the story follows Barry Seal, a family man whose decidedly boring but safe life is shaken to its core by a unique business opportunity provided by the CIA.
Cruise reunites with his ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ director, Doug Liman and little-known writer Gary Spinelli, to unravel this complex tale. How is it that an American pilot managed to work for the CIA taking reconnaissance photos and delivering arms to Central and South American kingpins whilst simultaneously delivering drugs for the Medellín Cartel? The film highlights the very real flaws in Reagan’s Presidency whilst laying the foundation of what historically came to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair. How was any of this legal? As Monty Schafer, a shadowy CIA operative played by Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant; Star Wars – The Force Awakens) explains, ‘It’s all legal if you do it for the good guys.’
Tom Cruise makes a triumphant return and we can pretend the last ten years of his career did not happen. As Barry Seal, Cruise’s onscreen charm is exceptional and more reminiscent of his performances in Top Gun and Jerry Maguire. Given the historically heavy subject matter, the film should not be as funny as it is. As the story unfolds, we watch Seal’s life implode yet somehow you can’t help but be wildly entertained and sympathetic as it does. The grounding element of the film is provided by Seal’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen). Having to provide basic needs for his family is the catalyst that convinces Seal to take on the extra-curricular activities including arms bearing, cocaine dealing and sly picture taking. In one memorable scene, after being relocated by the CIA to the sleepy remote town of Mena in Arkansas, a heavily pregnant Lucy laments of her need for basic items like a washing machine. Seal’s response is to throw his first Cartel paycheck – a bag of money – in the spot the washing machine would go.
From there the film dives deeper into a chaotic nose dive fueled by Seal’s ambition and his wanting to please everyone. Needless to say, not everyone can win.
The mark of a good film is when you are completely engaged from start to finish. This film manages to capture the viewer’s attention until the very end. Like Barry Seal, American Made delivers in spades.