American Made is the story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a former commercial airline pilot turned CIA operative turned smuggler for the Medellin drug cartel.
Based on a true story, the film gives some insight into the duality and hypocrisy of the American government during the late 70s and 80s. The film opens up with President Jimmy Carter giving a speech highlighting the bleak outlook that most Americans had after the Vietnam War and Nixon’s resignation. The movie blends action, comedy, and political satire very smoothly and seamlessly.
Barry Seal begins the movie as a commercial pilot for TWA who flies all over the world. Although he is extremely capable and graduated at the top of his flight school class, he tends to play by his own rules. Because of this, a CIA agent named “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson) recruits him to run a fake company that flies to Latin American countries in order to get pictures of communist guerillas to have intel for the Cold War. Because he is so successful in obtaining these photographs, the CIA hires him as a middle-man who brings information to the United States from Manuel Noriega, a general in Panama (who also eventually becomes one of Latin America’s most infamous dictators). While doing this, and amid the chaos in Latin America in the 1970s, Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel enlist Seal’s services to deliver drugs from Colombia to the United States, thus solidifying the cartel as the most powerful in the world.
American Made plays to Tom Cruise’s strengths in many ways. He has excelled in the action, drama, and comedy genres, and this film blends the three. From the onset, the movie is fast-paced and exciting, and Cruise does a great job of using his comedic timing and charm to move the story along. He is very relatable and although he is being duplicitous, the viewer roots for him to succeed. He gives Barry Seal the charisma and life that are needed for the audience to sympathize with someone working on both sides of the law.
The film is shot in a way that almost makes it look like a hand-held camera. This adds to some of the paranoia that Barry is feeling throughout the movie, and also reminds the audience that he is telling the story through a series of videotapes. The technique is especially effective during the flying scenes, and Cruise leads the audience through a series of in-your-face drug deliveries that are fun and exciting.
Sarah Wright, who plays Seal’s wife Lucy, does a great job of playing the organized crime wife who looks the other way, but also gives a strong, funny performance in the role. The movie never falters when showing her devotion to Barry, even when she sees that what he is doing may not be right.
The film’s dark humor centers around much of what the 70s and 80s gave the United States. The desire for more money and products, the rampant use of drugs, and the questionable decisions made by the government at that time. The Cold War-era fear of Communist infiltration of the government allowed for Reagan’s administration to train and arm a group of Cotras from Nicaragua in a comedic sequence that ends up being a catalyst for the drug trade to spread from Colombia to the United States.
The movie would be best described as a mixture of the films Blow and Argo, as the drug smuggling sequences are humorous and exciting, with Cruise nailing the con artist-like charm that Depp mastered in the former. With the undercover CIA mission and 80s nostalgia, there are a lot of similarities to Argo. American Made definitely has the sense of fun and adventure of both of those movies.
Overall, American Made is a fun, action-packed joyride for anyone who wants an edge-of-your-seat adventure. It is definitely worth the watch, and it is vintage Tom Cruise. If you’re in the mood for a satirical action film that brings light to some of the darker operations of the government’s past, this film will not disappoint.