Few films ‘based on true events’ feel as ridiculously over the top as Doug Liman’s American Made (2017). Based on the life of pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), the film follows Barry as he becomes a CIA informant taking photographs of communist rebellion groups in Central America, starts smuggling cocaine for Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel, and subsequently smuggles Russian guns to the Nicaraguan Contras on behalf of the United States Government. Let’s not forget that most of Barry’s bizarre smuggling career took place during then-President Ronald Reagan’s infamous “War on Drugs”. It sounds too comical to be true, and yet the story told by the film is closer to fact than it is to fiction.
This film’s most interesting aspect is without a doubt its cinematic style. The filmmakers decided to forgo the traditionally clean style expected of most films in exchange for the slight camera wobble and awkward crash zooms one would expect from a home-movie. This style makes the film stand out among other recent action-crime movies, and helped make the already unbelievable story that much more memorable.
Though many of his recent roles have felt unremarkable, Tom Cruise manages to portray Barry Seal as a charming and likable guy, despite being someone who works for Escobar. Barry’s just a guy who wants to provide for his family and have exhilarating flights over the world, and you get sucked into his character. The story itself remains focused on Barry, but none of his shenanigans take a backseat. The drug smuggling, gun running, and reconnaissance missions all take up as much time in the film as they need to, which makes the fast-paced flick feel packed.
Tonally, the film takes a slightly comical approach in portraying the story of Barry Seal. While this works in most scenes, it feels inappropriate as the film starts to close and Barry faces the consequences of his smuggling career. However, the tone remains consistent throughout the film, which is far better than a movie whose tone flip-flops and is inconsistent.
Overall, American Made packs an unbelievable story into a film worth watching for its style and interesting look into the world of Government operations and cartel business dealings. It’s a fun film that’s sure to entertain with its fast-paced story, though likely not one audiences will care to revisit in the near future.
George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English, along with a Certificate in Exile Studies.