American Made: Tom Cruise shines in a true story that’s stranger than fiction

Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) makes a smuggling run but is confronted by the Nicaraguan government’s forces.
American Made
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alejandro Edda
SCORE: ★★★½


Bizarre 1980s US foreign policy, drugs, sex, fast planes, Tom Cruise as a “gringo” and more money than can be hidden – American Made is a film that revolves around the excesses of smuggling and how life can be stranger than fiction.

The film is based on Barry Seal, the real-life pilot who left his stable job at Trans World Airlines (TWA) to become an international drug smuggler and CIA contact.

His actions led to the creation of the Medellin cartel, but the CIA chose to ignore Seal’s side deals.

The premise is ludicrous, but also plausible, with the notion being that Seal merely became bored with his job and was running contraband across the US-Canadian border when the CIA caught him out and recruited him.

From there, the film takes off as Seal (wonderfully played by Cruise) finds himself the focal point for the Medellin cartel, the CIA, and the Contras all vying for his services. Seal himself is left in the unenviable position of trying to manage all of his volatile contacts smoothly.

One of the downsides of American Made is that the characters are sketchy and ill-defined. Many side characters have little or no backstory or introduction, and are forgettable background figures that only briefly interact with Seal.

The movie chooses to focus entirely on Cruise’s portrayal and as such other characters such as the CIA contact Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) and Seal’s wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright) are poorly fleshed out.

Lucy (Sarah Wright) and Seal showcase the three elements of all successful criminals – risk, sex, and drugs.

Lucy, in particular, is nothing more than eye-candy in the movie. Her relationship with Seal has a sweetness to it though, as he always strives to look after his family and provide for them.

American Made is very much a Cruise solo adventure, as he flies over the vibrant landscapes of Arkansas, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Everything from the location to the costume design is colourful and larger than life. In particular, the aircraft scenes hark back to a time when flight was more glamorous and exciting, sparking a sense of adventure in the audience.

However, there are many questionable cuts in the film’s camera angles and many scenes would have been served better if the camera stayed still instead of jerking in strange ways. 

These directorial quirks don’t lessen the film’s satirical tone, and the humour is tempered by its sense of adventure. The pacing of the film begins slowly but eventually picks up, as it unravels every double-cross, deal and increasingly outrageous excess of Seal’s lifestyle and choices.

American Made is a biopic that derives much of its interest from the events that surround Barry Seal. Huge international ramifications are in part caused by this cavalier and roguish character and, if anything is to be believed, the film is having a blast telling the tale.