Barry Seal was a commercial pilot for Trans World Airlines in the 1970s. He was caught smuggling cigars between embargoed Cuba and the United States. Instead of charging him, the CIA enlisted him into their program taking pictures of leftist militias in Central America and arming the “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua. “American Made” tells the somewhat true story of how it all spun out of control.
“American Made” contains an odd blend of emotions. The founding members of the Medellin Cartel talk Seal (Tom Cruise) into flying cocaine between Colombia and the United States. The exploits of Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa aren’t generally taken as lightly as they are by the director, Doug Liman. Tom Cruise’s manic and comical energy is prevalent throughout “American Made,” spinning the darkness of the subject matter into an upbeat romp.
The twisted humor of Cruise and Liman makes “American Made” fully enjoyable, even during the darkest moments. The soundtrack encourages the wild mood. It’s full of 1970s disco and jazz, including tracks from Walter Murphy, John Ever Villa and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Sarah Wright, playing Seal’s fictional wife, Lucy, is phenomenally dynamic. Her shift from a confused and angry housewife to high-living crime wife is flawless.
Domhnall Gleeson is also excellent as Monty Schafer, the made up CIA agent who starts Seal down his path of smuggling. Gleeson portrays Schafer as an unsettlingly cheerful operative who brings new smuggling jobs to Seal with a wide smile.
The truthfulness of “American Made” is sketchy, to be generous. Tom Cruise’s representation of Seal is that of a family man led astray by the dirty CIA for the sake of money and to provide for his family. In reality, Seal was married three times, with five children from all three of his wives. Lisa Seal Frigon, the real-life Barry Seal’s daughter, filed suit against Universal Pictures for misrepresenting Seal’s life.
Telling Barry Seal’s story with such a jaunty spin was a strange decision. It could be argued, and Liman does exactly that, that Seal made the Medellin Cartel into the force that it was. He also directly assisted Manuel Noriega’s rise to dictator in Panama, and made the the Nicaraguan and Iranian Contras possible.
The theme of “American Made” makes it seem like Liman wanted to make a classic Tom Cruise movie, and decided on which story it would be afterwards. It’s very much in the same vein as “Top Gun.” Something just doesn’t match. It’s an incredibly fun movie to watch, and changing the mood would ruin it, but something just doesn’t sit right when the real-life story is considered.