Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriter: Gary Spinelli
Caleb Landry Jones
Runtime: 115 mins.
Australian release date: 24 August 2017
Previewed at: Universal Pictures Theatrette, Millers Point, Sydney, on 18 August 2017.
It’s oft said that ‘if you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there.’ Well, roll forward a couple of decades and you have a period of even greater excess, at least in terms of drug consumption. Why? Well think of the good ol’ US of A and the mind-boggling CIA-endorsed drug shipment shenanigans that were going on under the sanctimonious eye of then President Ronald Reagan and his prim wife, Nancy, who’d stare down the barrel of a lens and bleat, “Just say no…” to drugs. The hypocrisy was enough to make your nose bleed because we’re talking about vitamin C, nose candy, marching powder, coke, or just plain old cocaine. This recreational drug gripped the decade by its nostrils and was influential in some of the most scandalous political deals of the era.
Doug Liman’s American Made nails the period and reveals the real-life exploits of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a TWA pilot who was approached by a clandestine operative (Domhnall Gleeson) to become a contract flier for the CIA. Initially engaged in buying military intelligence from a corrupt general in Panama, it ultimately led him to airlifting coke for the Medellin Cartel while running guns to the Nicaraguan Contras for the CIA. Seal was set up with his own plane and airport in Mena, Arkansas (right under the nose of Governor Bill Clinton), where he eventually had to hire other pilots because the shipments became so large. As a result, his biggest problem over the next few years was finding enough places to stash his ill-gotten gains. But of course, like all things that are too good to be true, you just know that his duplicitous dealings have to come to and end. Just how this goes down is what gives Gary Spinelli’s fabulous script its edge. As Liman has said, “…the tension comes from this little stitch you have in your gut that the party can’t go on forever.”
American Made is an eye-opening movie delivered in a high-octane style that makes you feel as if you’ve had a straw up your own nose because the pace is so frenetic. Cruise is at his best in this uncharacteristic role of anti-hero; the contrast with his hammy performance in The Mummy couldn’t be greater. He is thoroughly convincing and adopts a kind of naive swagger and bewildered expression that keeps you thoroughly engaged in the ride, which is a pretty hair-raising one. Let’s face it, Barry is doing some pretty bad stuff but Cruise makes you complicit in wanting him to get away with it. There’s a great supporting cast in the film too, especially Sarah Wright as Barry’s wife Lucy, but this is essentially Cruise’s movie. A pilot himself, he is also credited for some of the terrific flying stunts.
There are some laugh-out-loud moments when certain historical figures appear - think Lt. Col. Oliver North (Robert Farrior) and George Bush the elder - plus Liman has included original footage of President Reagan and Nancy’s pleas to the nation. Cinematographer César Charlone has captured some incredible aerial location shots over various parts of Central and South America and Liman has added some witty animation to help explain just how and where these scams occurred. If you’re interested in a piece of history that’s ‘out there,’ then don’t miss American Made. As Joe Strummer of ‘80s band The Clash once said, “Everybody has a story to tell” and this sure is one of the wilder ones!