Money, Guns, and Drugs Aplenty in Newest Tom Cruise Movie
By: Charlie Lott, Columnist
“American Made” is the story of TWA pilot Barry Seals (Tom Cruise). The movie focuses on the escalation of Seals’ involvement with various government agencies and drug cartels. In true “Breaking Bad” fashion, the formerly family-oriented commercial pilot quickly adapts to life as an international drug smuggler and an arms dealer.
Seals, formerly the top of his class at flight school, is called upon by a member of the CIA to take photos of burgeoning Communist regimes in Central America. On one trip, the infamous Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia), and other members of the Medellin drug cartel make Seals a proposition: transport their cocaine into the United States when he returns to deliver his photos to government officials.
They catch Seals quickly, but thanks to the Reagan presidency, he is released and sent back out to deliver guns to the Contras, rebels against the Sandinista regime. He brings guns into Central America, but continues to transport cocaine on his way back into the States. Everything spins out of control and Seals ends up wanted by three different American intelligence agencies, targeted by the cartel, and desperately trying to juggle his relationship with his wife (Sarah Wright) and kids.
While the story is gripping, and it is almost unbelievable that it is based on true events. The directors made it difficult to connect with Seals and the other characters. He comes across as a power-hungry dude who cares more about money and success than he does about his wife and kids. Several times throughout the movie he leaves without telling his family, or he uproots them from their home, and his dealings with the cartel make it dangerous to even be around him.
One of the best parts of the movie is the interactions between Seals and the Central American insurgent groups. At one point he touches down, and they ignore the AK47’s in the back of his plane, instead jumping him for his boots and sunglasses. Another scene features Escobar and his crew nonchalantly getting arrested by local police, all the while shouting at Seals to “Callate!” and “Stay put!”
Another, slightly underdeveloped, part of the plot comes from the good-for-nothing brother of Seals’ wife, JB (Caleb Landry Jones). The youngster shows up in town looking for a job, and Seals happily obliges by letting him sweep the floor and serve beers at his private airstrip. One of the downsides of having millions of dollars lying around is that people tend to run into it, which is exactly what happens. JB buys a new car and has a run-in with the local sheriff, adding family troubles to Seals’ already too long laundry list of problems.
An underrated part of the film is the location. There is nothing quite as majestic as watching a plane fly across the jungles of Central America, even when it is being shot at by Nicaraguans. Every shot involving flying is stunning, offering a crude juxtaposition between Seals’ formerly boring TWA job and his crazy CIA career. One second he is manufacturing turbulence to mess with his passengers, and the next he is crash landing in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, biking away from the police while covered in cocaine.
This movie is not just another Tom Cruise vehicle. It conveniently hides the aging actor behind the steering wheel of an aircraft, making him seem like just as much of an action hero while avoiding the death-defying stunts viewers have come to expect from his movies. Don’t go to see “American Made” for your favorite actor, because he’s just not all that Tom-Cruisey in it. You should check it out for a wild ride through the perils of the drug trade, the seedy underbelly of American foreign affairs, and a whole lot of plane crashes.