Every movie buff is beset with mixed feelings, when confronted with the tag ‘based on a true story’ or ‘based on true events’, you either are feverish with excitement about seeing that movie or you would rather not. Watching a movie is somewhat like a break from reality- an escape if you will. Thus it may be uncomfortable for most if the movie says based on true events.
I fall into the latter category, give me fantasy and fiction, if the event happened, I do not want to be blatantly reminded of that fact, I must confess, my sentiments on this matter is unrepentant.
You can imagine that Tom Cruise’s ‘American Made’, which was released this past weekend across cinemas in Lagos wasn’t exactly my first choice of movies to see. Something about boredom and a convenient viewing time – there I am in the screen, drowning with dissatisfaction, hands folded as I prepare to be bored out of my wits.
I had lost all trust in Tom Cruise, since his lead role in the movie ‘The Mummy’, in my opinion, that is a poor attempt at an installment of the Mummy movie franchise. Brendan Fraser in previous installments had left really big shoes and the recent installment of the Mummy did nothing about filling these shoes, much less surpassing the prequels. I thought the story line was cliché and the theatrics were banal. Thus I wasn’t excited about Tom Cruise, being in this movie.
It didn’t help either that the Movie’s poster is as tasteless as ever and it did nothing about whetting my appetite or getting me excited.
What I find commendable about the movie, is the fact that Dough Liman, the director is able to seamlessly merge history, realism and fiction. The story revolves around Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) an airline pilot for TWA, who is so bored with the pedantic routine of his life, being so starved for excitement,”he leaps before he looks”, asking no questions, he becomes a pilot cum reconnaissance photographer for the CIA, as he undertakes the dangerous mission of taking photos of communist insurgence across North, South and Central America.
This is set against the backdrop of America’s distrust of communists, the cold war with the former soviet union and President Ronald Reagan’s frenetic attempts at quashing communist insurgencies. His contact with the CIA is a man called ‘schaffer’ (Domhall Gleeson), who is also his handler and instructor.
While on one of his flights, taking reconnaissance photos, he is recruited as a smuggler for the Medellin drug cartel, with the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar at the helm of affairs. A man credited to having supplied over 80% of cocaine smuggled into America at the time.
Barry Seal does it all, from being involved in espionage and taking reconnaissance photographs for the CIA, to smuggling drugs and guns for the Medellin cartel, to being neck deep in money laundering, to arming the rebellious Contras who are to fight a civil war in their own homeland; he is even invited to the Whitehouse for a high priority mission, thus an unassuming pilot, with a humdrum routine, becomes the renegade “gringo who always delivers”.
Indeed Barry Seal has his finger in every pie and is at the zenith of his criminal enterprise, with money flooding in from all quarters, practically drowning him and his family. As the movie progresses, we just like Barry Seal begin to feel dissatisfaction with wealth, as money begins to lose its essence, to become an entity that exposes the gluttonous underbelly of human desires.
While Barry Seal is caught right in the middle of moments in history that may have distracted or diluted the part he plays, the director skillfully ensures that we are transfixed by him and makes it a autobiographical movie of one of history’s most prolific smugglers. Every other thing stands on the periphery of his story, not distracting it, but emphasizing it.
Tom Cruise in this movie, has none of the cluelessness that dogs his every step in ‘The Mummy’, he gives a stellar performance and effortlessly fuses himself with Barry Seal, his character in this movie. And once more he redeems himself in my eyes, to become my hero, as he has always been from ‘Mission Impossible’ to ‘Jack Reacher’.
This for me becomes Cruise’s redemption, to wash off the bad taste in my mouth after ‘The Mummy’, you will not find banal theatrics in this movie or cringe worthy dialogues either. Neither will you find a cliche storyline, because while ‘American Made’ is simple, it is not a simplistic movie. It is laden with several plot twists to keep movie goers glued to their seats, especially when Seal’s house of cards comes crumbling down around him.
Certainly ‘American Made’ is Tom Cruise’s attempt at redemption and we are here for it.
See Movie Trailer Here: