"American Made" Reviewed

Updated on October 9, 2017
Rami Nawfal profile image

Rami has a BA in psychology from the American University of Beirut and an MS in addiction counseling from Grand Canyon University.

American Made - Movie Review

“American Made” stars Tom Cruise and is based on the true exploits of Barry Seal, a pilot who ran arms for the CIA, smuggled drugs for Pablo Escobar, and eventually became a center in the Iran-Contra affair. The film’s relevant message may be all too familiar, but its cleverly satirical treatment of a serious matter and Tom Cruise’s charismatic performance make it worth a watch.

In 1978, a bored TWA pilot named Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), who smuggles Cuban cigars on his flights, is approached by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) and given an opportunity to do some secret aerial reconnaissance over Communist guerillas bases in Central America. Eventually, he becomes a CIA courier delivering payments to General Noriega of Panama. His exploits capture the attention of drug lord Pablo Escobar, who offers him a large sum of money to help smuggle cocaine on his returning flights to the US. When Seal gets busted, the CIA looks the other way and tasks him with arming the Nicaraguan Contras. Realizing that the Contras are lazy, Seal devises a scam which would involve arming the Medellin cartel with CIA-supplied guns meant for the Contras.

The role of Barry Seal is perfectly suited for Tom Cruise as he is an expert at playing impetuous characters. Akin to Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street” we know that Barry Seal’s actions are wrong and destructive. A substantial amount of this movie’s humor stems from Seal’s grandiosity and his delusional belief that he can outmaneuver all of those powerful entities he’s playing and not get into trouble. Tom Cruise exudes charisma through and through and practically makes gunrunning, drug smuggling, and money laundering look like fun. But underneath all the fun there is a sort of subtle vulnerability that Tom Cruise shows off, and that would be his adrenaline addiction. You can see that his character does care for his family and wishes to provide the best for them, but on the other hand his insatiable thrill seeking just keeps pulling him away from his loved ones and putting them all in danger.

“American Made” merely scratches the surface, but it does somewhat accentuate the sheer hypocrisy and quite frankly, idiocies of the US government’s intelligence operations. The government, with its questionable position as chairman of the world’s moral high ground, prattles on about how the Communist Sandinistas of Nicaragua are an “outlaw regime” and “enemies of democracy”. How do our government overlords fight Communism which they slam as undemocratic? By being in bed with other undemocratic regimes, using drug smugglers like Barry to carry out their shady operations, and funneling arms to thuggish guerrillas abroad at the taxpayers’ expense. This film illustrates how from an intelligence agency’s perspective, only the results matter regardless of how paradoxical or amoral the avenue to attain them is.

Don’t you believe for a second that those results I speak of are driven by morality. The chief impetus behind every player’s actions is money. The president, the CIA, the FBI, Seal, Escobar, the banks in Barry’s little Arkansas town, they’re all in one way or another chasing the proverbial American Dream which is represented by riches. With its comedic tone, I think “American Made” whitewashes the destructive repercussions of every amoral player’s actions to portray these events from their perspective; as nothing more than a game, a way to enrich their own lives at the expense of others. “American Made” is a satire in the sense that Barry Seal’s life story and the events surrounding it sound too absurd to be true for the average joe. Moreover, accountability, the criminal justice system, morality, they’re all a big joke and the film treats them accordingly; it uses satire to tell a never-ending tragedy. The tragedy being that the loopholes in this broken system can be exploited to no end and that the arbiters of the machine haven’t an iota of intent to mend its flaws.

As much I agree with this film and its relevant messages, there isn’t really anything groundbreaking about it. In fact, it’s rather glib and the overall value is superficial. We’ve seen this type of tale before so it’s really not that surprising and it doesn't help this film's case that I personally read an insane amount of alternative media that counters the government's narrative on things. Additionally, the narrative structure and compressed length prevents “American Made” from fleshing out its characters, thereby dealing injustice to the majority of the supporting cast and curbing the film’s chances at being a whole lot deeper than it actually is.

All in all, “American Made” is a funny, entertaining, briskly paced, relevant, and well acted romp but it isn’t anything spectacular. It works as a piece of entertainment but if you’re looking for something a little more substantive on the subject matter then chances are you will end up being a little disappointed. It’s like a cocaine rush with an absence of future craving. Good, but not great.

My score: 7/10

© 2017 Rami Nawfal

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