November 5, 2017



Tom Cruise is looking good in "American Made," a zany, hard-to-place-the-tone, slice-of-history flick. Tom is either getting Botox injections or drinking embalming fluid. He looks as young as his twentysomething film wife (Sarah Wright).

"American Made" is the riotous true story of Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot (with a wild streak) recruited by the CIA in the 1980's to fight communism in Central America by: getting mixed up with the Colombian drug cartel and flying drugs, guns and "freedom fighters" back and forth to the USA. There's a lot to be explained and unpacked here--many untold stories within this highly entertaining historical re-enactment. I lived this entire era and was able to follow the exposition, but I'm not sure younger folks will be able to piece it all together.

The film blasts out of the hangar with jerky, frenetic, raucous scenes (many of which are airborne) accompanied by a jubilant, kick-posterior, Vietnam-War-era instrumental rock soundtrack. The anachronistic soundtrack must be done with a purpose: some of the other CIA-recruited pilots in the film were Vietnam War pilots. Pretty much the entire film proceeds in a consistently slap happy manner. The scenes are short, don't say much, don't moralize. But that's also a reflection of our amoral pilot who is raking in literal suitcases full of cash and living high off the hog with nary a twinge of regret.

The always-fine Domhnall Gleeson plays a Machiavellian CIA agent who is Barry's handler, even though he has no worthy dramatic moments or juicy lines to deliver. Cruise gives a superficial, wide-eyed cowboy performance throughout, even when a little more was called for. But let's not forget, this was the fast, prosperous, no holds barred, roaring 80's.

Director Doug Liman ("Bourne Identity," "Edge of Tomorrow") is known for his action movies. The writer, Gary Spinelli, has a few films under this belt as well. But why was this film made? It's not obvious. Any Hollywood film set in the 80's takes its requisite jabs at Reagan (always referencing the goofy movies of his film career), and "American Made" is no exception. Is this an indictment of Republicans now that we have a Republican President again? A vilifying of U.S. foreign policy in general? Are we meant to be swept up in the glamour of a life of "legal crime"? Or is the point that "crime never pays"? Are we meant to linger on the ending: that no one is really above the law...not even if you're above the DEA, FBI and state police? Is it rather that there is honor among thieves? That justice and a reckoning will come from some quarter eventually? Is the point for the U.S. to examine our conscience today? Is this an information/teaching film? Or just an irresistible story that had to be told, a joyride? Is it Barry who is "American Made"?

I was miffed by the glib handling of the great tragedy that was Central America in the latter half of the 20th century. Was the almost jocose nature of the film adopted because Americans will only learn their past if its edutainment? I remember The School of the Americas where the U.S. trained dictators, torturers and assassins. I have friends from Nicaragua who lived horrors. I remember the slaughters. I remember the Catholic El Salvadorian martyrs. The Sandinistas, liberation theology, the Iran-Contra affair, the cocaine-fueled gang wars in our inner cities. For me, it was all a very sad remembrance.

I would be interested to know if younger folks unfamiliar with these times could actually glean a coherent historical narrative from "American Made."

Highly recommended viewing: "Romero" by Paulist Productions, starring the great Raul Julia, for a much more sober account.

And for a more accurate view of the Colombian drug cartel (which initiated what was practically a civil war in Colombia--e.g., 450 police officers were murdered, 1,000 injured, not to mention civilian casualties), watch the riveting documentary "The Two Escobars." If you're a soccer fan, you'll also witness some incredible games (the "other" Escobar was Andres Escobar, the captain of Colombia's national soccer team in the 1980's).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:29 PM

    Wow. This article is fantastic, as is the accompanying video excerpt from Raul Julia's performance in ROMERO. (Extremely moving - and I loved the producer's words in the center of it - because they are true - Jesus said "you will always have the poor with you, but not always me" - and "whatsoever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me").
    Anyway - your writing here is superior. Wow again!! And thank you.

    (Note:. I posted annon because I couldn't figure out how to get the comment to post properly.)