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  • Writer's pictureHunter Friesen

"American Made" Review

We as Americans love to hear about the self-made man. Someone who saw an opportunity and made something for himself. American Made is the story of how Barry Seal, half CIA flyboy, half Colombian drug runner, made his fortunes by seizing a golden opportunity.

Barry Seal is a Trans World Airlines pilot stuck in a boring life of taxying from destination to destination. He’s a thrill seeker that gets his rush from smuggling in Cuban cigars. This attracts the attention of CIA agent Monty Schaffer who recruits Seal to take flyover pictures of suspected communist countries in Central America. After a few runs to through Colombia, Seal is roped into doing cocaine runs for drug lords, one of which happens to be Pablo Escobar. Barry is now making a fortune running drugs into America while also working for the government. Conflicts of interest start to arise and his loyalty is tested by both sides.

The film flies at a breakneck pace, going from year to year in mere minutes. We see Barry with the CIA in ‘77, then it quickly changes to ‘79 and the drug lords are introduced. The speed fits Barry’s life since he was constantly flying for somebody, but it doesn’t allow for situations to fully develop and breathe. Once something is explained, something else pops up. This causes confusion to build up around halfway through that never gets sorted out.

Another problem with the story is how it inadequately juggles all the different parties involved in the plot. The CIA is introduced early but goes missing multiple times before popping up again for a short time. The plot involving the drug dealers take up most of the middle third but also go missing near the end.

The message of American Made is explained right in the title. Barry Seal was a real man that made a fortune off of America’s ineptness at foreign policy and fighting the war on drugs. He is the essence of what every American dreams to be. We condemn him for cheating the government and delivering illegal drugs, but also wish we were him because of the luxury and thrill that comes from that kind of life.

People who enjoy Cruise-led action films such as will enjoy this because of the similar charm and fun intertwined with action scenes. The peril never feels that immediate and we always get the feeling that Cruise will talk his way out. I also expect the older generation to turn out for this because of the many plot points that circle around American politics during the 1970’s. Younger viewers might not be that interested, but the people who lived during that time will get a kick out of it. Director Doug Liman sells the usual anti-American message that comes from films taking place in the turbulent 70’s and 80’s. We witness Reagan politics and the underbelly of the CIA working in Central America.

The filming is done in the 70’s style. Some images are out of focus and in many instances, you can see heavy grain. This works to the films benefit by making it feel more authentic and like the story is being told through a television screen from back then.

Tom Cruise is exceptional as Barry Seal. He plays off his best features; good looks and ability to charm everyone in the room. The entire film is revolved around him and we never lose sight of him, which is a good thing here. Domhnall Gleeson is pretty good as the enigmatic and troublesome CIA agent Schaffer. Sarah Wright is another highlight as Barry’s wife who gets pushed around because of his crazy adventures. Jesse Plemons barely supports as Sheriff Downing, which is good because his character really has no use in the film and should’ve been cut.

American Made is one of those films that you know has problems, but you like it anyway because it's fun to watch. Not every film is perfect, but usually, the ones that are the most fun to watch are the ones we remember the best. Audiences should enjoy this film for Tom Cruise and high flying antics and not think too hard about some structural problems.


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