There’s a little bit of Jason Bourne in “American Made.”
This fast-paced biopic was helmed by Doug Liman, the director behind “The Bourne Identity” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” another wonderful Tom Cruise movie. The central figure in “American Made” is real person: Barry Seal.
The story is not only a biopic of Seal, but it’s also a little about the history that led up to the Iran/Contra scandal. Drug cartels, the CIA’s involvement in the struggle against communism and drug/weapons smuggling are all part of this bizarre story that audiences wouldn’t believe if it weren’t based on real events (although this does not pretend to be a history lesson).
It’s an action movie that’s also a star vehicle for Cruise, who makes his character utterly likeable regardless of which side(s) he’s on at any moment.
The tale begins in 1978, with Seal flying 707s for TWA. He’s carrying some questionable cargo on some of his flights, and this comes to the attention of a CIA agent who goes by the name “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson, “Ex Machina.”)
Schafer, or whoever he is, then asks Seal to do some aerial photography in Central America. Seal takes the lucrative but dangerous assignment, and starts lying to his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright, “The House Bunny”) about continuing his career with TWA.
Soon, Seal begins to deliver packages to General Noriega. Eventually, some drug dealers (including the notorious Pablo Escobar) ask him to deliver shipments of cocaine when he comes back to the United States. That’s lucrative, too: They pay him $2,000 per kilogram.
The CIA then asks Seal to deliver guns to the Contras. Meanwhile, Seal is trying to launder and hide so much money that he simply has no more room for it.
Cruise is in great form here. He’s a delight to see as the ever-charming, ever-scheming pilot who always seems one step of ahead of everyone else. Watch while he sits, under arrest, smiling from ear to ear while he awaits the news that he can walk away.
Much of the film is lighthearted, despite its themes of violence, pending death and drug smuggling. Along with the rest of the audience, I laughed out loud several times.
Also, the flying sequences are great fun (one pilot, asleep at the controls, is awakened in a clever way). Anyone who has seen many movies will hearken back to “Top Gun,” which Cruise was filming about the same time some of the 1980s events unfold.
Liman makes the complex carryings-on understandable. And Cruise and the rest of the ensemble make it highly entertaining.