What if I told you that in the late 1970’s, an airline pilot was recruited by the CIA to take photos over Central America with his plane. And also smuggled cocaine into the United States for the cartel at the same time. And also brought guns to freedom fighters in Honduras for the CIA. And started taking those guns to the cartel. All without being caught (or at least prosecuted), making millions of dollars in cash.
What if I told you that this story is true.
The newest Tom Cruise movie, American Made, portrays the life of Barry Seal, a real man who wasn’t afraid to keep a few lies and have a few bosses in order to make bank. Cruise might be playing another pilot and another secret government worker, but Barry Seal is far from Maverick or Ethan Hunt. Seal is an Arkansas man who can smell dollar bills from thousands of miles away and does what he can to make that money his, regardless of if it’s legal or safe for his wife and kids. Barry Seal isn’t noble. But he is clever.
I tend to be skeptical of all Cruise movies, but it’s refreshing to see him successfully out of his wheel house, since that doesn’t happen often. Starring alongside Cruise are Sarah Wright and Domhnall Gleeson, who are also known for completely different roles than they played in American Made, which surprisingly worked, and was one of the many reasons why this movie felt like it wasn’t a repeat of an overused plot (finally).
More than anything, I found myself invested because the majority of what I was watching was not an invention of the human imagination. It all actually happened. I wasn’t rooting for a character. I was rooting for a real man who really pulled off an unbelievable stunt. Almost.
American Made is alluring in an outlaw kind of way. The soundtrack is rock n’ roll meets old south meets seventies funk. It puts the audience in a good enough (or maybe bad enough) mood to want to continue to be an insider on what Seal is doing even though, morally, it’s personally and relationally detrimental. If I wanted to be motivated to rob a bank or launder money, this is without a doubt the playlist I’d blare, probably while driving 90 miles-per-hour in a 1960 Cadillac Convertible (While in custody, Seal tells a group of officers, “I’ll give each and every one of you a Caddy for your troubles, because I’m going to walk out of here.” Spoiler: He does walk out of there).
The entire movie is a game, the goal of which is money. Bags and bags of money. And Barry and Lucy Seal are the ones moving the pieces, their eyes transfixed on this pursuit alone, no matter what it costs.
It costs a lot. It costs lives, which come at shocking and painful moments in the movie. It costs their family, as Lucy has a baby only minutes into the film, who’s rarely mentioned again (since all that matters is finding more places to keep their endless supply of cash). And it costs the family’s safety and freedom, as Seal is practically owned by the CIA and the cartel. And in the final scenes of the movie, it becomes painfully clear how the benefits compared to the costs.
I’d like to the think that the real Barry Seal realized how much he was truly losing, even in the face of infinite wealth. I’d like to think he became aware of how quickly it would suck him in and spiral his family out of control, before it was too late. That’s the one thing I hate about knowing that American Made is true, that someone lived this. Someone’s wife and kids lived this. And thankfully – hopefully – we can learn from it (even if we aren’t smugglers or launderers) as fathers, wives, kids and friends in our own pursuits and priorities.
Overall, American Made is fresh and thrilling, Catch Me if You Can’s younger, unruly brother. I like him a lot. He’s a little wild, with some old-school charm and charisma, and will definitely take you for a joy-ride or two.