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American Made - Movie Review

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American Made - Movie Review

4 starsAs stylish and dirty as it is devilishly witty, the biting satire American Made takes an unbelievably insane event, mixes in equal parts deft direction and imaginative storytelling – with a healthy dose of Tom Cruise at his best – to make one of the season’s most surprisingly enjoyable films. It’s a difficult story to tell, and even more challenging to make it entertaining, but Director Doug Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli weave the real-life story of civilian pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) who became one of the most important (yet least known) characters of the 80s.

Seal’s story is told via flashback style with old VHS video “selfies” and title cards that, thankfully, break the story up into easily digestible chapters that plop us down in a tangible place and time. As the film unfolds, we’re taken on a nostalgic trip back to the ‘80s, replete with pay phones, big Cadillacs, big hair, even bigger shoulder pads, and enough cocaine to saturate the United States several times over. Just how much of the “true” story is true is up for debate however, but Liman and Spinelli refer to their film as “a fun lie based on a true story.” Regardless, the results are unequivocally bat-sh*t crazy.

In the late ‘70s, we learn that Seal is a bored commercial airline pilot before being approached by a shady CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) offering a more lucrative opportunity. Seems the U.S., concerned by reports of communist-backed rebels setting up camp in several Central American countries, wants Seal to fly a CIA-provided plane over the treetops while secretly snapping photos of troop movements. Seal is good at it. So good, in fact, that he is soon tasked with also being the bag man between the CIA and Panamanian General Manuel Noriega (Alberto Ospino).

But when his expanding family, including wife Lucy (Sarah Wright), begins to outstrip his income, Seal decides to make better use of his return trips to the U.S. by clandestinely hauling tons of cocaine for what will eventually become the Medellin Drug Cartel led by Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), Carlos Lehder (Fredy Yate Escobar), and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia).

It’s not long before U.S. authorities are on to his game. But rather than shut down his operation, the U.S. Government doubles down by moving Seal’s family to a small town in Arkansas, and providing him with a private airstrip from which to run more secret missions for the government. You just can’t make this stuff up. It’s not long before Seal is carrying arms to the freedom-fighting Contras in Nicaragua. History reminds us of how things turned out from there

Cruise is operating at the top of his game as the morally compromised Seal whose “devil-may-care” actions remind of the actor’s Maverick from Top Gun. We should hate the character, but Cruise makes it impossible to do anything but root for his continued reign of disrepute. He’s that good here. And even though Wright is some twenty years his junior, it wouldn’t surprise if Liman’s choice of the actress in the role of Seal’s wife were some cheeky wink-wink to remind us that reality is often much more difficult to fathom. Gleeson also turns in a great performance as the creepy spook who always shows up at just the right moments.

Liman keeps his story moving at a blazingly fast pace as we watch distrust, paranoia, and unbridled greed begin to chip away at Seal’s empire. The director’s use of kitschy 1980s nostalgia bathes us in a vivid sense of place while a cavalcade of emotions beset the viewer and the constant nag of reality hangs over everything. Yes, it’s all mostly made up, but there’s enough “real” in there to remind us of the often dangerous relationship between criminals and governments.

American Made - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.
115 mins
: Doug Liman
Gary Spinelli
Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright
: Action | Biography | Drama
The CIA. The White House. Pablo Escobar. One Man Played Them All.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm the gringo that always delivers."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
September 29, 2017
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: The story of Barry Seal, an American pilot who became a drug-runner for the CIA in the 1980s in a clandestine operation that would be exposed as the Iran-Contra Affair.

No details available.

American Made - Movie Review

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