American Made

 

            This is based on a true story, and it's got a lot of angles, just like the complex lead character, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise).  He starts out as a TWA pilot, but becomes a bit bored, apparently, and longs for some adventure, and some adventurous flying.  He's already smuggling some Cuban cigars in his personal luggage, which means he's the kind of guy who will bend the rules if it suits his purposes.  This makes him the perfect target for the agent from “The Office,” Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who is careful to not reveal too much, because it's all classified information, you know.  But we want you, Barry Seal, to do some shady things for your government.  Oh, and there's likely to be some good recompense for you, providing that everything goes as planned.

            And of course it never does.  But that doesn't stop our high-flying risk-taker from delivering the goods, wherever that may lead him.  And sometimes it's in places where you don't want to be the only stranger. 

            Barry Seal not only manages to smuggle drugs for money, he does so thinking he's serving his country, because he's helping run covert operations.  Yes, to prop up the Nicaraguan ruler, Noreiga, later found to be corrupt and summarily toppled.  But also to supply arms to the Contra forces in Central America, which our Reagan-era government called “freedom fighters,” because they were actively curbing the spread of Communism in our hemisphere.  Barry Seal finds out that the what Contras really want is money, which the Colombians have plenty of, due to the illicit drug trade, and they're very interested in the guns (Russian-made AK-47s taken by the Israelis from the Palestinians but converted to untraceable surplus).  So Barry Seal works out a three-way deal, which makes him a rich man, because it's so successful.  Everybody's getting what they want, right?  Barry Seal loves both rolling in dough, and the idea that he's such a wildly prosperous rogue, with clandestine creds.

            But there are plenty of major players here to prevent Barry Seal from getting away with his get-rich scheme for very long.  The Medillin Cartel is not to be trifled with, and neither is the DEA, the ATF, the FBI, and the state police.  At first, his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) didn't want any part of “dirty money,” either, until she realized how much there was to be plucked like low-lying fruit.  She's home raising the kids and appearing to be a traditional Mom, but she's also enjoying the obvious perks of financial windfall.

            We all knew this wasn't going to last forever.  And despite Barry Seal being an obvious charmer, he can't prevent some very unfortunate “leaks” from his government contacts, clearly implicating him.  So now everybody's after him, and there are some dangers that not even prosecutorial immunity can overcome.  An intruiging story, with just a touch of ironic humor, and enough ring of truth to make you believe most of it, even at the price of skepticism toward government operatives just slippery enough that the stink doesn't stick to them.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What do you remember about the era of the Sandanistas and the Iran-Contra affair?  Is government corruption worse or better now?

2)                  Have you ever consorted with unsavory elements just for the thrill of it?

3)                  If you suddenly had more money that you ever imagined you'd have, what would you do with it?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association