Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
How much of the film is TRUTH? Was Barry Seal really just amusingly eccentric—a good-hearted larrikin? What does the film purposely leave out?
Investigative journalist and author Daniel Hopsicker is an expert on Barry Seal, the illegal drug trade, and the CIA. He has expressed strong criticism of this film for arrogantly changing history, and says it covers up some of the biggest lies of the drug war.
Hopsicker says it,
“Is supposed to be the true story of Barry Seal. It isn’t. …[it] turns Seal story into “madcap '80’s romp”… Barry Seal was an American Drug Lord, in a country that isn’t supposed to have any. …American Made isn’t really about Barry Seal… it’s about Doug Liman and Tom Cruise. …There are abundant reasons to be suspicious of the motives behind the making of American Made.”
The true story of Barry Seal is reportedly told much more accurately in such books as…
• Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America (Dr. Roger Morris)
• The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard)
• Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA (Terry Reed and John Cummings)
• Barry & ‘the Boys’: The CIA, the Mob and America’s Secret History (Daniel Hopsicker)
Tom Cruise … Barry Seal
Domhnall Gleeson … Monty Schafer
Sarah Wright … “Lucy” Seal
Jesse Plemons … Sheriff Downing
Caleb Landry Jones … JB
Lola Kirke … Judy Downing
Jayma Mays … Dana Sibota
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|Director||Doug Liman—“Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), “The Bourne Identity” (2002)|
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Barry Seal has spent most of his distinguished aviation career as a pilot for TWA airlines. But you see, things have gotten a little… well… stale for Barry. Every so often, a guy just has to go out and have a little adventure, you know?
So what does a normal, middle-aged, well-respected family man like Barry do? Well, he gets himself recruited by the CIA, of course! His job starts off simple. Fly a jet and take some aerial reconnaissance pictures of Colombia so that the United States can gather intelligence on the uprisings occurring in Central America.
However, when Barry gets there, drug lord Pablo Escobar offers to pay him handsomely to transport 200 pounds of marijuana to Louisiana (at $2000 a pound, by the way). Sure enough, Barry accepts, and Barry decides to make illegal drug trafficking his new way of life.
Of course, he doesn’t stop there. Money does things to a man like Barry. He has a family and 3 children to take care of. So Barry expands—hiring employees and greatly increasing his drug distribution enterprise.
In addition, the CIA asks him to transport guns and even people (to a training camp in the United States) via his jet. Barry and his family are living “the good life.” What could possibly go wrong??
All too often these days, biography-based films take a lot of “liberties” or “creative license” in their effort to make more money by increasing the “entertainment appeal” for the masses; hence the reason filmmakers sometimes openly admit their movies are “loosely based” on real events. Some also add political messaging, either openly or somewhat veiled, to stir the media and Liberal critics to exclaim, “Wow, that film was amazing.” Some films add or subtract events, or “milk” some of the details a bit, and change some of the personalities or places—sometimes subtly enough that most people, unaware of the true events, are none the wiser.
Truth makes a difference. So, in this review, I’m breaking my traditional style of just sharing my impressions and describing the content. I’m going to start by unveiling what is true and what is not in “American Made.”
In the film, Barry is shown being offered the job by the CIA after they notice his work in smuggling CIGARS in and out of the U.S. In reality, Barry Seal was first noticed by the CIA for trying to smuggle EXPLOSIVES out of the United States into Central America (TIME, 2017).
The film implies that Barry worked side-by-side with the CIA for many years GATHERING INTELLIGENCE in Guatemala and Nicaragua. In truth, there is insufficient evidence to support or deny this claim. The only thing confirmed is that in 1984 Barry helped take some pictures with a plane. Anything else before that, according to Time magazine, is simply rumors, and cannot be confirmed.
This film has taken a lot of creative license and is not the amazing true-life story that is strongly implied in its marketing. Much of the public assumes this is a true story. One naive secular movie critic even exclaimed, “There’s a thrill in knowing it’s real.” Please understand that this is not the real Barry Seal, and this is not what really happened.
However, as an Action Fiction film, it is sometimes fun and very humorous dark-comedy. Tom Cruise smilingly shines in his role, as reserved as it is. Most of the pacing is good, with the exception of the final act which tends to drag significantly and seems rather anti-climactic.
“American Made” has a LOT of offensive content. This is only a partial list…
Vulgarity/Profanity: Extreme. There are over 60 uses of the f-bomb, including mother-f****r (several), “What in the holy f**k?”, “F**k you and my c*nt sister,” etc. God’s name is misused multiple times, including 9 G*d d**ns). Jesus’s name is also taken in vain. Other words: h*ll (12), damn (10), sh*t (28—including “Holy sh*t”), a**-hole (2), p**sies (2), pr*ck (2), c-word (1), S.O.B. (2), and a scene with urination.
Violence: The violence is not as intense as I was expecting, given its R-rating. Two characters are killed (both assassinated). While taking-off, a pilot plows through trees. A pilot choses to escape authorities by landing his plane in a residential neighborhood—destroying landscaping, mailboxes, and more, plus his plane. A plane is machine gunned, and there is a scene involving a car explosion, as well a plane crash. Wife slaps husband.
Sexual Content/Dialog/Nudity: Very Heavy. There are several moments involving crude sexual dialog pertaining to women. Sheer nightgown. Bikini. Crude sexual comments. Barry and his wife, in quick brief scenes, are shown having sex in different parts of their house—naked (not graphic)—and the audience hears the sexual noises they make. In another scene, the couple has sex in the cockpit of Barry’s plane. Porn magazines delivered. There are 2 scenes where Barry displays his bare bottom to his family, jokingly. The wife’s younger brother brings his girlfriend to visit the Seals, causing the wife to exclaim, “Oh my gosh, that girl is 15 years old!” (underage).
Other issues: The film centers on themes of illegal drug trafficking and greed (more on that below). Characters drink alcohol and smoke in several scenes. The audience also witnesses the wife giving birth to one of her children.
Greed is front and center in “American Made.” Barry was making an acceptable living. He had a wonderful life, a loving family and an amazing career in aviation. Yet, he risks it all for money, for drugs and money. Greed blinds him. In the film, he starts by trying to make enough to protect his family’s future. But when that is achieved, it’s not enough. Barry states, “I have so much money now, I don’t know where to put it all!” Worse, Barry’s greed becomes so great that he passes his low moral values onto his family. As I watched the character being blinded by these things, I couldn’t help but feel pity. He was missing out on the real treasures that God had placed in front of him… his family.
Jesus warns of the dangers of placing our trust and our hopes in the pleasures of this world—in things that perish, where “moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The Lord urges, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where you treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:20-21).
Here’s the bottom line on “American Made”. The film takes A LOT of liberties, and there is A LOT of objectionable material (does every R-rated Tom Cruise film, HAVE to have a sex scene in it?). If you can somehow by-pass the content issues, you might enjoy this film, as the moviemaking quality is relatively good. As it stands though, there is no way I can, in good conscience, recommend “American Made” for Christian viewing—and please do NOT allow children to see this.
This film is reminiscent of 1990’s “Air America”—an action comedy involving gonzo pilots, the CIA, and drug and arms smuggling in Laos during the Vietnam War.
Again, the message seems to be that American’s are corrupt and greedy—they elect dangerous cowboy leadership (the fingers point at Reagan and Bush)—their CIA and military are corrupt, and they wrongly meddle in other nation’s affairs, not caring if innocents are hurt in the process.
By the way, the part of the “American Made” story that has Barry landing his plane in a suburban neighborhood and passed out cash to kids is another total fiction; it never happened. Also, the film’s account of how he became a drug smuggler is fiction and its timeline is way off. He began his drug trade in 1975 (not 1980), according to his own wife. The Monty Schafer character played by Domhnall Gleeson is also a fabrication and bears no resemblance to reality.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.