American Made review – true-life Iran-Contra thriller hits a false note

Tom Cruise’s aviator sunglasses can’t disguise the flaws in this playful but shallow take on 80s pilot Barry Seal’s dealings with drug cartels and the CIA

There’s a scene in American Made that features Tom Cruise’s Barry Seal downing tequila after a successful international drug drop while Talking Heads’ Slippery People blares away in the background. These are the levels of nuance present in Doug Liman’s based-on-a-true story action romp of Seal’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. By Liman’s account, Seal was a slick superstar pilot who was poached by the CIA to spy on communist rabble-rousers in central and South America, flying his plane low enough overhead to take photos.

Ever the enterprising American, Seal soon began dabbling in drug-running (and, later, arms-dealing) on behalf of the Medellín cartel for quick cash, the extra pocket money piling up too fast for him to count it.

“I do tend to leap before I look,” winks a mulleted Cruise in one of the VHS tape diary entries interspersed throughout the film to explain Seal’s story in hindsight. Interspersed with animated inserts – coloured a sickly yellow – that crudely illustrate the film’s backdrop of cold war politics, Liman’s film is a playful, if not especially probing, jab in the ribs of Reagan’s America and its interventionist politics. It also works nicely as a Tom Cruise star vehicle – his megawatt smile and aviator sunglasses on fine form here.

Watch a trailer for American Made

Contributor

Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

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