American Made is “loosely” based on the real-life story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a civil pilot and smuggler during the 1980s. Director, Doug Liman and writer, Gary Spinelli present Barry’s story in a satirical and smart way with moments of dark humour- almost as though it is a mockumentary of the American Dream.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Seal tells his story through a series of flashbacks, commentary and old-school VHS recordings. The movie starts off with an ambitious, immoral and smug pilot, Barry Seal, who is just bored. His boredom, or rather, the antics of his boredom combined with his ambitiousness catch the eye of a sleazy CIA Agent (Domhnall Gleeson), who offers him an opportunity to work for them by taking aerial photographs of Communist guerrilla camps in Central America.
After a risky run, Barry is highly praised, but receives a measly reward. Cue the Columbian drug cartel. He is approached with another high-risk task and offered a much bigger reward for transporting various contraband to and from the United States. In one particular scene, we can see Pablo Escobar, drug lord of the Medellín cartel, and his companions betting on whether their newest recruit, Barry will survive. This scene magnifies the immorality of the whole situation but also acts as a humorous buffer – one of the scenes where Liman and Spinelli make the audience either laugh along or ponder for just a moment on the shady geopolitical dealings.
As he makes his way up the contraband tree, Barry’s hands become dirtier and dirtier from all the illegal schemes including smuggling drugs to the US and supplying ammunition to the guerrilla camps in Central America. But he doesn’t stop to think of the consequences, instead he has more pressing matters to attend to, such as where to hide his stash of laundered money and spoiling his wife Lucy, (Sarah Wright Olsen). These comedic, domestic moments are balanced out well with the tension and harshness of his dealings, which he tries so hard to keep away from his family.
American Made doesn’t attempt to portray Barry as a hero, but it does manage to make the audience root for him and his shortcomings. Cruise does a fantastic job portraying this anti-hero and American Made encourages and earns laughter as well as incites scepticism about the corrupt world.