American Made

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The last time I saw Tom Cruise in a movie and enjoyed his presence more than resenting it was War of the Worlds. Because this is a film review and not a Tom Cruise think piece, I’ll spare you my personal thoughts and feelings about the guy.

In the 1970s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) was a pilot for commercial airline TWA. Making your average day trips here and there, it would come as quite a surprise when he would be approached by a CIA agent going by Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Shafer recruited Barry to run furtive patrol missions in a small plane with cameras installed, taking photos of operative camps while being shot at.

Unable to tell his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), about his new gig, Barry has to maintain the appearance that he’s still shuttling passengers to places like Bakersfield several times a day.

This would become far more difficult when Shafer tells Barry he’ll now be a courier, running guns to Panama. On one of these trips, the Medellin Cartel picks him up while he’s on the ground trying to fuel up. There, he’d team up with the most notorious Columbian Drug Lord of all time, Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia), to fly cocaine into the United States.

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For every two kilos, Barry would be paid handsomely in the form of duffel bags full of what I assume were non-sequential bills. While the CIA would basically ignore Seal’s drug smuggling, the DEA would not. To avoid being found out, Barry picks up his family and moves to a small town called Mena, Arkansas.

Lucy, livid at the fact that she had to pick up and move in the middle of the night to escape a raid, learns of Barry’s new occupation and becomes less and less angry watching him throw rubber-banded stacks of cash around the kitchen where appliances should be. Missing refrigerator? Money. Need a washer? Money. Still mad at me? Money.

Bringing in cash, as he puts it, “faster than he could launder it,” Barry is given new tasks from Shafer. He’s asked to run guns to the Contras — US funded, rightist rebel groups — and even bring them into the United States for training.

Most of them ran as soon as they hit American soil, though.

Everything would soon come crashing down for Barry when he’s caught and arrested. The CIA would halt their ongoing projects with him and when it looked like he’d be going away for a very long time, he would unexpectedly be invited to the White House. He would strike up a deal with them to bring the cartel down. In return, they wouldn’t throw him in prison for the rest of his life.

I truly enjoy biographical films like this one. I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t looking forward to watching Mr. Scientology — sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t — run around for two hours. I’m very pleased — and a little mad at myself — to say that I dug this movie quite a bit.

Cruise shows a side of himself in this movie that is aloof and uncharacteristically goofy and it works out massively in his favor. Sarah Wright was the perfect choice for his other half, as well. She’s no-nonsense and — while she doesn’t have much to work with other than the role of wife and mother — holds her own on-screen beside him.

All in all, I was impressed by how pleased I was leaving the theater. It’s a fascinating story and Doug Liman — who is no stranger to high-octane action flicks and is basically Jason Bourne’s dad — does an excellent job telling it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you’re stuck for what to see this weekend, check out American Made. It’s actually really good, and you can quote me on that.

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