by Monica Hayes
Get ready for a history lesson and enjoy the ride as Tom Cruise portrays a real-life drug runner Barry Seal in Doug Liman’s American Made.
In the late 1970’s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) was a pilot with TWA airlines. After landing in another city while on a layover, he drops off several boxes of smuggled cigars at a Holiday Inn where he and his crew were staying for the night. While mingling with his fellow coworkers, he is approached by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who basically blackmails him into doing some “reconnaissance” by flying to certain South American to take a few pictures. Bored with his current situation, Barry jumps at the opportunity and finds himself flying to countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador just to name a few. He is also asked to do several “drop-off and pick-ups” to a then young Manuel Noriega who supplied the CIA with information.
Barry was making a name for himself and had Schafer taking notice. However, others were taking notice also. One day in 1980, while trying to refuel in Columbia, Barry is approached by a group of men and was told to get in the truck because some people want to meet you.
Unknown to him, he was on his way to meet with the top brass of the Medellin Cartel: Pablo Escobar, Jorge Ochoa, and Carlos Lehder. At this meeting, Ochoa told him they were having some transportation issues and wanted him to fly their cocaine to Miami. In return, he’d get $2000 per kilo as payment. This was too good for him to turn down, but had its issues. The main issue was that the landing strip was in a secluded area that previous pilots crashed because the runway was so short. Another issue, the planes were overloaded and wouldn’t take off, hence the crashing. Barry, being a young hotshot pilot, came up with a workable solution and in no time he is loading up his CIA plane with the Cartel’s drugs.
When it came time for him to take off, all eyes were on him, so much so, bets were placed on his success or failure. To everyone’s surprise, and his, Barry successfully took off and was on his way to make his delivery. That first shipment began a long and profitable relationship with the Cartel.
If things couldn’t get any better, Schafer asked Barry to transport some guns to some freedom fighters known as Contras because the U.S. is going to help train them. Barry agreed, however, his first shipment didn’t go so well, but he kept at it. On his next shipment, Barry was met by George Jung who told him to keep bringing the guns but give them to the Cartel instead. Again, Barry went along with the program.
Everything was going so well, money was coming in so fast, he couldn’t launder it quickly enough. Hey, who would suspect anything of a guy who had his own airport and crew and had boatloads of cash in every bank in town and the rest either buried or stashed in his barn?? Yea right! Well as it turns out … wait… there are more twists and turns involving the Cartel, the CIA, DEA, ATF all the way up to Ronald Regan’s Iran Contra Scandal and Barry is right smack in the middle of it all. You will just have to check it out for yourself.
American Made is narrated by Barry himself through several home video recordings he made documenting his life. Sound familiar? It should, Martin Scorsese did the same thing in GoodFellas. Instead of being based on the rise and fall of a young juvenile delinquent who rises through the ranks from petty thief to being a real heavy hitter within the world of the Italian Mob and made men, it shows a young pilot who is known as the “Gringo who delivers” for the Medellin Cartel right under the CIA’s nose.
Cruise does a great job at portraying Barry Seal. However, watching him brings back memories of to another young hotshot pilot he played in Top Gun. The same grins, smiles and body language, make you think you’re watching an older version of Maverick, or better yet, Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible. No, wait, its Joel from Risky Business. You have seen this character too many times before they all just blend together.
The one thing that is a little disappointing about American Made is that it seems to glorify the life of Barry Seal and just show the good times. There is no mention of any type of hardships he and his family faced. Even when his airport is raided by not only the DEA but ATF, FBI and state police at the same time, it all seems like fun and games.
Also, other than Barry, Schafer and the Cartel, the other characters in the movie just seem to be an afterthought. You would think some thought would be put into how Barry’s family is dealing with his career choice. Unlike what we saw with Karen Hill in GoodFellas, there is no mention of how Barry’s wife is coping with his choice of employment or the massive amounts of cash just laying around, hell, not even the death of her brother. She shows no concern or caring of what may happen. We just see the showboating and flaunting.
American Made shows us what most already know: the U.S. government hand a huge hand in bringing drugs into the country, or at least they knew and turned a blind eye, Reagan’s White House armed and trained the Contras which later blew up in their faces with the Iran-Contra scandal and one man was who could blow the lid off of EVERYTHING was there and knew it all, Barry Seal.