American Made is not a reliable source. It is a work of about 50-60% fiction about a real man who led a fascinating life in the fascinating world of smuggling for Pablo Escobar. Nothing is mentioned of Barry Seal’s involvement in trying to smuggle explosives to Mexico, a case dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct. Seal was never involved with any US federal agency in any capacity until he was arrested by the DEA and became an informant, he was not involved with the Contras, the pot-bellied, 250-300 pound Seal did not have a relatively good-looking-even-after-putting-on-some-weight Tom Cruise physique. For what it’s worth, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) himself has said American Made is “a fun lie based on a true story”.
Having established we’re not watching a reliable source, is the movie at least fun on it’s own? For the most part, yes. American Made is a fun weekend afternoon movie to kill time with friends and family. The exact kind of movie you need to relax on a lazy day.
The movie is more deconstruction and punishing of the typical Tom Cruise image and character than anything. I cannot help but admire it for that. Barry Seal walks away from his TWA job after Langley offers him a more lucrative one (in real life, Seal was fired for his involvement in the aforementioned plot to smuggle explosives to Mexico) and he seems to be living the good life off his cocky attitude, like a Tom Cruise character-type, but every turn offers more and more trouble and punishment! I’ve waited years to see this and it is here!
I don’t hate Tom Cruise, it’s just that every part of his public persona, with that big grin everywhere he goes and never changing face, feels disingenuous, very calculated. Cruise is also a very overrated actor. Cruise as a presence has never been that convincing to me unless he’s playing essentially himself, and it just rubs off the wrong way on me. I respect him for doing his own stunts in his movies, part of what makes the Mission Impossible movies overall very entertaining, in particular numbers 1 and 5, but there are other actors who do their own stunts and are actually pretty good at acting.
Seeing Cruise in a role where his typical character-trope actually has to struggle and panic is exciting! Seeing him act cocky and think he’s in the clear only to realize he’s just in more of a mess than he was before is fun! For the first time I can recall, Cruise finally, FINALLY, plays a character! Cruise absorbs into him a character and lets it take over! Cruise finally is more than just a shape on the screen! And yes, some entertaining Tom Cruise action for good show. I couldn’t be happier.
American Made is not a perfect movie. It doesn’t need to be. It is entertaining enough, fun little movie to kill time on a lazy day. A good time for a weekend afternoon with friends and/or family. We need movies like that, we always will. For a more accurate description of Barry Seal’s life, I recommend the link below to an interview with former US Marine and FBI agent Del Hahn, who investigated Seal and became involved in drug busts. Also provided is a link to Hahn’s book, Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal. American Made is worth the ride, just don’t expect to be watching Goodfellas. Just sit back, don’t ask too many questions, and enjoy the madness on screen.