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Movie Review

Cigars. It all started with cigars.

It's 1978. Hotshot TWA pilot Barry Seal rakes in extra cash on the side smuggling Cuban cigars from Canada to the States.

Until the day Schafer shows up.

Schafer—a CIA agent with a fat file on Barry's cigar smuggling scheme—nevertheless recognizes the pilot's undeniable entrepreneurial bent, his willingness to take risks. Barry's the kind of guy, he figures, who'd jump at the chance to trade his boring commercial pilot job for something a little more jazzy. A little more dangerous. Like, say, flying the world's fastest prop plane over various countries in Central America and taking spy photos of suspected Communist operatives there. Countries like Nicaragua. El Salvador. Guatemala. Honduras. Columbia.

Barry's intrigued. Plus there's that fat file in Schafer's hand. How can he say no?

And, well, it turns out the word no isn't really in Barry Seal's vocabulary anyway. So when he's abducted in Columbia by ascending drug kingpins Jorge Ochoa, Carlos Ledher and Pablo Escobar, he responds to their "request" for him to fly their white powdery product back to the States in exactly the same way he did to Schafer's request. After all, how can he say no? They've got guns. They've got his plane. And they're willing to pay him $2,000 per kilo of cocaine he flies north.

And Barry can pack a lot of kilos in his plane.

Surveillance on the way down. Drug-running on the way back. Lots of cash for Barry's pretty, mostly in-the-dark wife, Lucy.

Then Schafer ups the ante: The CIA wants Barry to start carrying illegal Russian AK-47s to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Oh, and to bring some of those freedom fighters back to the U.S. (Barry and his wife have been moved by the CIA to a remote area outside of Mena, Ark.) for training.

How can Barry say no? Especially when he's making so much money that he's literally run out of places to stash it.

Plus, what could possibly go wrong for a man who's spying, running drugs and guns as well as illegally trafficking Nicaraguan rebels?

Positive Elements

Barry Seal doesn't have much of a moral core to speak of. But by film's end, his unlikely story does deliver a cautionary message: You can only break the rules and live outside the law so long before the consequences catch up with you.

No, Barry's not a particularly moral man, but he does love and care for his wife, Lucy, and their three children. He wants to provide for them (and, boy, does he!), and he wants them to be safe. (That last desire gets increasingly difficult for Barry to make good on as the stakes rise violently near the end of the film.) Lucy, for her part, also wants to protect her children—perhaps more so than Barry himself does.

Spiritual Content

Barry gets detained by a trio of drug lords in Columbia. The main one he deals with is Jorge Ochoa. Jorge brags about the burgeoning cocaine business in Columbia, saying, "Now God above has blessed this country with new riches, Mr. Seal." When Barry's nervous about his drug-laden plane's ability to take off from a short, high-altitude runaway in the Columbian jungle, Jorge gives him a crucifix and says, "Christ will keep you safe." Barry takes the cross, rubs it (as if for good luck) and hangs it from some controls in his plane's cockpit.

Throughout the film, the camera occasionally focuses on the cross, perhaps implying that at some point, Barry's spiritual "good luck charm" may not be potent enough to keep him alive.

We see nuns and priests in the background of a couple of scenes in Columbia. Before the closing credits, we learn that one of Barry's former associates "found God" and became a preacher.

Sexual Content

Lucy often waits for Barry to get home to have sex with him. She greets him in skimpy negligee once. Several scenes picture them having sex (including one quick-cut montage that shows them making love in three different places). One sex scene takes place while Barry is flying. Movements and noises are explicit in each of these scenes, though nudity is strategically avoided. We also see Barry in bed, shirtless, with his wife lying next to him.

Lucy wears revealing outfits, and we see her in a bikini. Barry likes to moon his family as a joke, and we see his bare rear a couple of times. Lucy grabs his (clothed) backside once.

One of Barry's fellow TWA coworkers says that when women in hotels see a man in a pilot's uniform, their "panties come off." Barry gives pornographic magazines to men in a rough part of Central America to keep them from beating him up and stealing his clothes.

Violent Content

Barry knows no fear behind the stick of his plane. But things get hairy more than once. He tears through the upper canopies of tress in Columbia, barely making it above the forest on takeoff because his plane is so loaded down with coke. In another scene, he zooms into a residential neighborhood to land (trying to avoid DEA agents), and his plane's wings get shredded before what's left of the vehicle comes to a halt in someone's front yard.

Barry is repeatedly shot at by military forces of the governments he's spying upon. At one point, an engine gets hit and explodes, but Barry just laughs. He also gets beat up badly (mostly offscreen) in Columbia. We later see that he's lost a tooth, and his face is bloodied as well.

A man is killed when a bomb unexpectedly blows up his car. [Spoiler Warning] The government eventually compels Barry to film the Columbian drug dealers he's been working with (in order to avoid prison). When those men discover they've been betrayed, they send assassins to kill Barry. (We see only two men approaching either side of a car that Barry's sitting in, and we hear that he's been murdered.)

Crude or Profane Language

About 60 f-words, including at least five combined with "mother." More than 25 s-words. God's name is taken in vain at least 15 times, about half of those uses paired with "d--n." Jesus' name is taken in vain once. We hear about 10 instances of "h---," and four of "d--n." Other vulgarities include one use of the c-word, and one or two utterances each of "b--ch," "a--," "a--hole," "p-ss," "p--sies" and "pr--k."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Barry smuggles cocaine for the Columbian cartel on a massive level, transporting so much of the illegal drug that he hires four other pilots to fly missions with him. We learn that Barry shipped billions of dollars of the stuff singlehandedly.

Accordingly, we see myriad plastic wrapped bricks of coke. Barry devises a way to drop them from the bottom of his plane, and we see him "bombing" recipients who wait in Louisiana's swamps to collect the narcotic parcels. When Barry crawls out of his plane after that rough residential landing, he's covered with the cocaine that's accidentally erupted in the process. We also see an older woman with many kilos of cocaine taped to her body after she's arrested.

Various characters smoke cigarettes and drink different kinds of alcohol throughout the film. We see boxes of the illegal Cuban cigars Barry is smuggling.

Other Negative Elements

Schafer is clearly aware Barry's smuggling drugs. So he gives Barry detailed maps of all the places other federal agencies will be operating, so that the smuggler can successfully evade them.

Barry is eventually arrested after being pursued by three different federal agencies. The Arkansas attorney general is about to put him away for life when she gets a call from then-governor Bill Clinton (and the former politician's name is used by her in the film) telling them to release Barry.

Though it's clear that at least some people in the government know Barry has been smuggling enormous quantities of cocaine, they apparently turn a blind eye to those activities. Simultaneously, we see newsreel footage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan talking about the perils of drug use. The intended message is unmistakeable: that the Reagan administration was deeply hypocritical when it came to the supposed War on Drugs. Even as Nancy admonishes, "Just say no," Barry's delivering tons of coke with the CIA's knowledge and tacit consent.

At one point, Barry says incredulously to Schafer, "All this is legal?" The CIA agent responds, "Yeah, if you're doing it for the good guys." Barry's wife is skeptical at first, but he works hard to convince her, saying, "This is gonna be good for us." It's not clear if he ever completely comes clean with her about what's happening. No wonder when he asks her later, "Do you trust me?" she responds with an emphatic, "No!"

Early in the film, Barry is annoyed that his co-pilot—on a commercial flight—is sleeping. So he takes the plane off autopilot and puts into a dive just to wake his coworker up. People are screaming in the cabin, luggage is falling. But Barry? He's just laughing.

We hear verbal references to the businesses Barry establishes to launder the vast amounts of cash he's being paid. We see a man urinating (from behind, nothing critical is shown) in a jail cell. Another person, who thinks he's about to be shot, wets himself.

Conclusion

If you're already cynical about alleged government deception and corruption, American Made won't help matters much.

Oh, Tom Cruise is likeable at times as a brash rogue pilot whose devil-may-care approach to his incredibly risky business certainly makes for a compelling story. And this profanity-laden hard R-rated caper about smuggling—drugs, guns, human beings—would seem outlandishly beyond the realm of reality if it weren't based at least somewhat on a true story. Which we're dutifully told at the outset that it is.

But how much truth is actually here? National Review's Kyle Smith suggests an answer: not much. "American Made could have been called American Made-Up. It amounts to an enormously contrived effort by Doug Liman, the son of the Senate's lead counsel in the Iran-Contra hearings, to reshape the tangle of that scandal into a larkish Tom Cruise adventure. Truth was not an impediment." Smith even notes that Liman has described the story as a "fun lie."

But given the amount of profanity, sex and often consequence-free recklessness we see on display here, it might be more accurate to drop the "fun" descriptor and just call it a lie.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Tom Cruise as Barry Seal; Domhnall Gleeson as Schafer; Sarah Wright as Lucy Seal; Alejandro Edda as Jorge Ochoa; Mauricio Mejía as Pablo Escobar; Fredy Yate Escobar as Carlos Ledher; Robert Farrior as Oliver North; Caleb Landry Jones as JB; E. Roger Mitchell as Agent Craig McCall

Director

Doug Liman ( )

Distributor

Universal

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

September 29, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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