Based on a true story, “American Made” just validates the rumors that CIA agents are or had been involved in drug trafficking, in a clear exertion of influences and abuse of power to stuff their pockets with large sums of money.
That was exactly the story of Barry Seal, comfortably impersonated by Tom Cruise, a devious former TWA pilot in the late 70s who abandoned the job to operate clandestine missions for the CIA, including gun deliveries to the Nicaraguan Contras in Honduras. His actions consisted in flying a small plane toward uneasy South American countries in order to drop off and pick up sensitive merchandise. However, seduced by abundant hard cash, he started smuggling cocaine for a Colombian trio of avid drug lords such as Jorge Ochoa, Carlos Lehder, and Pablo Escobar.
Caught several times and temporarily arrested for his wrongdoings, Seal was always called back to the CIA and treated with patience and consideration by the case officer who hired him, Monty Schaffer (Domhnall Gleeson). He continued playing on both sides at his own convenience until exposed as an undercover agent and turned into a priority target for the traffickers when a compromising picture of him, meant to show the success of President Reagan’s War on Drugs campaign, was exhibited on the American TV.
Despite continuously chased by the DEA, the US Customs Border Patrol, and the FBI, the fearless and reckless pilot, known as ‘the crazy gringo who always delivers’, was always taken good care by the Medellin cartel, even when forced to cope with their own ways of dealing with annoying situations. This scenario was brought to our eyes when Seal’s unscrupulous brother-in-law, JB (Caleb Landry Jones), arrives at Seal’s remote residence, strategically located in the quiet city of Mena, Arkansas, to stay and steal the family’s laundered money.
Doug Liman, mostly known for the “Bourne Identity” and “Edge of Tomorrow”, directed from a tottering script by Gary Spinelli. He engages in a very active style that, sadly, also feels emotionally dried out, showing no space for big reflections. The narrative wasn’t always on the right track and some of the performances lacked the shine that would possibly elevate an interesting true story into a less flat fiction film.
The appropriate emulation of the looks and vibe of the 80s was one of the few beneficial aspects of a painfully vulnerable exercise whose lack of originality was exasperating. “American Made” might be able to entertain now and then, but it’s just another vain attempt to squeeze the silly life of a scoundrel into two hours of a second-rate cinematic romp. (2.5 out of 5)
ABOUT FILIPE FREITAS
Filipe Freitas is a New York-based Portuguese film critic and jazz music writer.
He’s the founder and lead critic of Always Good Movies film website, launched in 2010, and co-founder of JazzTrail, site that explores the vibrant NY Jazz Scene. He has a background in electrical engineering, a field he quit in 2012 to follow his dreams.