American Made




Tom Cruise as the real-life Barry Seal, a TWA pilot-cum-CIA spy-cum-drug dealer, et al.


American Made

Exploiting the system: Tom and Sarah 


In his own words, Barry Seal is a guy who tends to leap before he looks. Still, with his charm, chiselled good looks and ability to overcome impossible odds, he manages to get by. In fact, he’s known as “the gringo who always delivers.” It’s a good idea, then, to cast Tom Cruise as this high-achiever, as the actor’s natural charisma saves a lot of tedious explanation. The real Barry Seal was undoubtedly an entirely different man and to dramatise his human assets would have necessitated a much longer movie. For a start, the real Barry Seal was a chubby individual with an embarrassing hairstyle. The story, then, is the thing.


The narrative dished up here shows Seal recording a video diary, recalling his exploits as the youngest pilot in the history of TWA. A jumble of news footage sets the scene as Jimmy Carter talks about “a fundamental threat to American democracy” in his ‘Malaise Speech’ of 1979 and a cartoon crudely illustrates the tensions of the Cold War. Scholars of modern history will know where this is all going but it seems that Barry Seal was a stronger cog in the fight against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua than we might have guessed. In fact, he was spinning wheels all over the place, involved in money laundering, drug smuggling and spying for any faction that would grease his palm.


In Doug Liman’s fanciful film, Barry Seal also has a drop-dead gorgeous wife (Sarah Wright) and periodically adds another child or two to his magically expanding household. To say that Seal’s backstory is skimpy is to understate the matter, but then American Made is trying to squeeze a lot of adventure into its 115 minutes. Even so, it would have been rewarding to have a little more human flesh on its bones. In style, the film is not unlike Todd Phillips' War Dogs of last year, where chutzpah and administrative complexity collided to reap untold riches. There’s also more than a whiff of mortal danger. The fun part is seeing Seal, courtesy of Tom Cruise, playing one employer off another and then not knowing where to stash the cash. Not only does his local Arkansas bank provide him with his own vault, but his kids keeping on digging up banknotes in the backyard. Of course, it’s another vision of the American dream, albeit with a thick daub of sweat and blood. And it is an extraordinary story, although this particular version of events is a little hard to swallow.




Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda, William Mark McCullough, E. Roger Mitchell.


Dir Doug Liman, Pro Doug Davison, Brian Grazer, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson, Kim Roth and Ray Angelic, Screenplay Gary Spinelli, Ph César Charlone, Pro Des Dan Weil, Ed Saar Klein, Andrew Mondshein and Dylan Tichenor, Music Christophe Beck, Costumes Jenny Gering.


Cross Creek Pictures/Imagine Entertainment/Quadrant Pictures/Vendian Entertainment/Kylin Pictures-Universal Pictures. 

115 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 25 August 2017. Cert. 15.