American Made: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Alejandro Edda
American Made movie director: Doug Liman
American Made rating: 3 stars
Perhaps a scandal as bizarre as Iran Contra deserves characters as bizarre as pilot Barry Seal, or as he has been imagined by American Made.
Simply put, the Iran Contra affair was about this: American hostages were abducted in Lebanon by Iran-backed Hezbollah; so Israel diverted arms to an embargoed Iran in hope of their release; in turn the US supplied arms to Israel; while some of the Iran-meant weapons were diverted to the Contras; who, the US hoped, would overthrow the Communist Sandinistas government in Central America’s Nicaragua.
In American Made, Seal (Cruise) is a hot-shot young pilot, who smuggles Cuban cigars on the side, sometime in the 1970s. The CIA spots him, hires him to take pictures of Central America’s Communist battlefields, flying really low and really risky. Seal, in turn, moves on to smuggling into the US more expensive stuff, for the Medellin drug cartel, on the CIA-provided plane. He parties with Pablo Escobar, among others. The CIA turns a blind eye, and moves on to using Seal to provide arms to the Contras directly, and later for flying in the militias for training on American soil in Arkansas. Things go wrong only much, much later, after Seal has made so much money that it literally falls out of closets and is routinely dug up by his children during afternoon games.
The film, written by Gary Spinelli, calls itself ‘based on a true story’. It is only minutely so — playing with the facts to show that the CIA approached Seal, and making him a half-way hero when he, by all accounts, was a drug dealer who turned informant only to save himself from prison time.
However, when drugs, arms and militias are the means to battle “enemies of democracy” — as defined by slippery CIA agent Schafer (Gleeson) — who is to say what is the truth? Couldn’t an adventure-seeking pilot looking like Tom Cruise, wearing Aviators and floppy hair like Tom Cruise, tapping into Top Gun like Tom Cruise, smiling like Tom Cruise, partying like equals with big druglords from Colombia to Panama like Tom Cruise, humping hot wives like Tom Cruise, and giving a big middle finger to authorities like Tom Cruise, not be fronting the CIA’s mad-cap adventures in Central America?
Whether Liman (with his colourful pop Cold War lessons) intends this sly sarcasm, or it is a happy collusion of the fact that his film is releasing at a time when a true Reagan successor inhabits the White House, is up in the air. But those ambitious CIA agents in office-like cubicles, those tumbling AK-47s being delivered in aircraft, and those fumbling Contra boys on the ground all tell a tale.
Truth depends on where you are standing. Plus, didn’t Iran Contra give us that term after all — ‘plausible deniability’?