American Made ***

Tom Cruise goes from rags to illegal riches in this spirited story of drugs, guns, and the CIA.
Is it worth $10? Yes

Anti-heroes are a curious breed. Law-breakers who buck authority, they curry favor because we like them and often sympathize with their plight. The fact that they’re doing something illegal is an afterthought. Isn’t it interesting how easily movies get us to put aside our values of morality, law and order for the sake of entertainment?

In “American Made,” which is based on a true story, our anti-hero is Barry Seal (Tom Cruise). It’s the late ‘70s. He’s an airline pilot struggling to provide for wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and their kids. One day in a hotel bar he meets Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), a CIA agent there to recruit Barry to take aerial photos of Central and South America. Barry does, and does it well, so more work follows, such as handling pickups and drop-offs with General Noriega in Panama.

To this point Barry hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s just following CIA orders. In Colombia he meets Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), who get him to smuggle drugs into the United States. And so the real, whacky fun of Gary Spinelli’s script begins.

Years of smuggling both drugs and guns, followed by years of money laundering after Barry becomes filthy rich, ensue. We get the expected montage of lavish parties and everything going great, followed by the inevitable fall from fortune that often accompanies stories motivated by avarice. Through it all we like and root for Barry, in part because we know the U.S. government is giving him a raw deal, and in part because this is escapist entertainment that allows us law abiding citizens to fantasize about the thrills of Barry’s actions.

A main appeal in this type of film should be its style, yet at times it’s lacking. Director Doug Liman’s (who made the tremendous “Edge of Tomorrow” with Cruise in 2014) soft, muted colors, coupled with a simplistic style to the camera work, means the film rarely explodes off the screen. This story, which is captivating, needs to resonate with period music, creative editing and pizzazz. After all, it’s a crazy movie about drugs, money and corrupt governments – let the visceral experience of watching it also reflect that craziness.

Thankfully, both the movie itself and Cruise (who seems a bit old for the role) are compelling enough to make “American Made” worthy of your attention. Barry Seal may not be the most likeable anti-hero, but his story – especially because it’s based on true events – is not one you will soon forget.

Did you know?
Barry Seal appeared as a character in two quick scenes in “The Infiltrator” (2016), a good movie about a U.S. Customs Agent (Bryan Cranston) who exposes Pablo Escobar’s money laundering scheme.

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