Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
CINEMATOGRAPHY: César Charlone
WRITER: Gary Spinelli
MUSIC: Christophe Beck
“American Made” aims to tell the story of Barry Seal, a man who became one of the world’s biggest drug smugglers and then a DEA informant. The movie makes Barry a sentimental character as the film also tries to add a touch of dark humor in a similar way that Martin Scorsese did with “The Wolf of Wall Street”. The movie even features Tom Cruise as Seal narrating his story through a series of video tapes.
The movie introduces us to Seal as a TWA pilot who is absolutely bored with his life. Sure, he has a loving wife and kids, but he just can’t stand the monotony of being a commercial airline pilot. Then, Barry meets Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), a CIA agent who wants Barry to fly in low and take reconnaissance photos of Central America where the Soviets are training communist soldiers.
While there, Barry encounters a major drug cartel in the making that is headed up by three men, one of them being Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Mejia). Before long, Barry is set up in Mena, Arkansas, where he sets up a major drug smuggling operation along with the work he does for the CIA by smuggling arms to the Contras. With all of this going on, Barry soon finds himself in over his head while also making more money than he knows what to do with.
First off, I can say that Cruise does a good job as Barry and you find yourself rooting for the guy despite the business he is in. Also, the movie does have several interesting tidbits about this man’s supposedly crazy lifestyle. Beyond Cruise as Barry, Sarah Wright also does a good job as Barry’s wife Lucy.
Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say that was good with the film. There are several times where I didn’t know if the movie wanted to take itself seriously or play it for the laughs. I can say that when the film does knowingly play it for the humor, it tends to fall flat on its face.
Beyond Barry or his wife, we also don’t get to really learn much more about the people Barry encountered. Pablo Escobar, for example, is just a side character that doesn’t really do much. Then there is Gleeson playing a character that I’m 99% sure is totally made up for the sake of the movie.
Speaking of authenticity, I’ll admit that I don’t know the real Barry Seal’s story intimately, but even with what I do know, I can tell that this film took a lot of liberties with the real-life story. If you want the real story behind the real man, then you need to just do the research yourself. This movie is more concerned with the legend of Barry rather than who he really was.
Finally, the movie just sort of ends with a hollow thud. There are times where it almost gets interesting, but I found myself looking at the clock on my phone a few times wondering when it would end, even though the film is under two hours. “American Made” is not the worst film ever made, but it also isn’t all that memorable despite a decent effort by Cruise to make it at least somewhat interesting.