American made and it is shitty, at least the tale the film “American Made” has to tell is. In a tone reminiscent of much of the Coen Brothers’ work, writer Gary Spinelli spins a morally bereft rendition of money and thrill motivating Americans and American wannabees.
While some may argue that this is the world we live in, I refuse to bury a higher ideal with the filthy loot. Depressing, more than humorous, Director Doug Liman’s film is dedicated to his father, Arthur Liman, who was the chief counsel in the investigation of the Iran-Contra affair.
If the gist of this film is to show why America is a failing empire,the greed and mendacity in this flick points the way. Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is no hero. He is a cocky TWA pilot, who enjoys breaking laws shamelessly whether it be for the CIA, the Columbian drug cartel, or just for thrills.
His wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) is an interesting mix of “stand by your man” cheerleader and distrustful man-slapper. She and her brood of three are asked to give up a lot besides putting their lives in danger. Her full circle story sets a stereotype for KFC front-liners. Lucy’s story could be sung in country-syle by Dolly Parton.
The real crazy story is told to us in the voice-over tapes of Barry Seal. Labeled TWA ’78, CIA ’78, Mena ’80, Nicaragua ‘85, etc… U.S. Presidents from Reagan to Clinton to Bush are shown in dubious light. Truth and power are scrambled. Oliver North and his secret facilitations of weapons to Iran during an arms embargo also hopes to fund the contras in Nicaragua and train many in the U.S. with the Iranian money.
Cruise’s smirk plays well in this portrayal of a smart ass that says “anything is legal if you are doing it for the good guys”. Seal is not a real believer in collecting intelligence of “the enemies of democracy”. He is just pumped with glee over filthy lucre and a chance to fly into risk.
CIA desk agent, Schafer, played self-gratuitously by a talented Domhnall Gleeson, adds the greatest level of cynicism to the film. The plot is rife with depressing humor. Suitcases and duffel bags of money fall out of closets, air traffic control monitors mistake drug running planes for Shell Oil helicopters, gifts of alcohol and porn and sports tickets dampen allegiances.
Seal delivers like any mercenary. Columbia gets guns: Miami gets drugs. Barry Seal gets his own vault at his neighborhood bank. We sit in the theaters and re-live an era from “just say no to drugs”, to green gremlins, to community service punishments, and silly “mooning”.
“American Made” is fast-paced, energy-driven and an excellent portrayal of fearful, centralized, governmental power brokers in their most morally deplorable state: unbridled, unhinged, and capitalizing on human greed for the purpose of keeping or advancing their positions. A very scathing view of government, and the world in general,will hurt any idealist’s soul.