Tuesday, 24 October 2017

American Made

I decided to watch American Made (which is based on a true story) because I’d heard that it exposes the role of the CIA in the central American drug trade and in the various scandals involving the Contras (including Oliver North). Had that been an accurate assessment of the film’s goals or even of its contents, Doug Liman’s American Made might have been a great film, or at least a very good one. Unfortunately, neither is true (IMHO).

Tom Cruise stars as Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who, in 1978, is offered the chance to take photos of Soviet-supported bases in Central America. When this proves successful (thanks to Seal’s fearless flying), Seal begins taking on jobs of his own, like smuggling drugs for a new drug cartel in Colombia. When Seal’s CIA handler, known as Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), finds out about this (after Seal is arrested in Colombia), his response is to give Seal 2,000 acres of land in Arkansas and an entire small airport which Seal can use as a base for his various smuggling operations (guns to the Contras, then guns to the drug lords in Colombia and money to the Contras, then the Contras themselves, so they can be trained by the American military). 

Seal becomes enormously wealthy, filling the local banks with his millions. His wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), knows somethings’ wrong but enjoys the high life while she can. Of course, when you get that wealthy doing very illegal things, even if it’s for the CIA, big trouble is bound to come your way, and it does, though not before Seal has a chance to work with Oliver North to pin the Central American drug-trafficking, which has been supported (if indirectly) by the CIA, on the communists.

American Made has an interesting style designed to place it in the early 80’s. This is only partially successful. I had mixed feelings about the cinematography and the music, and I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the acting (Gleeson stood out). I also thought the story’s structure was a little too chaotic, failing to make some important connections. But my biggest disappointment was in the film’s treatment of the CIA. The blame for the CIA’s involvement in the Colombian drug trade and the various Contra scandals is pinned on one intelligent but slightly bumbling individual (Schafer), which is nonsense. There’s a great scene in which President Reagan is shown talking on TV about how the evil Sandinistas are involved in the drug trade when in fact it is his own people and the Contras who are involved, but that’s far too little too late for a film that had a chance to really say something important about the most evil organization in the history of humanity.

So American Made gets *** for an entertaining attempt. But it could have been, and should have been, much better. My mug is trying to find its way up.

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