- Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Barry is, in the typical way of stories like this, a bit of a prodigy, and a bit bored with the mundane world. He’s a hotshot, the youngest-ever commercial pilot or some such for TWA... but he’s basically a bus driver on short-haul routes, ferrying people from one dull place to another. He gets a bit of a thrill with the petty delinquency of smuggling Cuban cigars in his cockpits — I guess pilots weren’t searched much in the late 1970s, when he’s getting away with this — but the real fun comes after he is approached by CIA agent Monty Schafer and recruited to fly missions over South America taking spy photos (not in TWA planes, obviously). One thing leads to another, as tends to happen when you fall down rabbit holes of espionage and clandestine operations, and soon Barry is acting as a bagman in transactions between the Company and Panamanian strongman — and CIA informant — Manuel Noriega, and then he’s smuggling drugs into the U.S. for the Medellin cartel, which leads to (after he’s caught) becoming a DEA informant. And then comes the Iran-Contra scandal...
Director Doug Liman and Cruise, as Seal, are reteaming here after their huge 2014 success, the sci-fi Edge of Tomorrow, which also saw the actor taking on a character who is less than totally likable. But Cruise’s Edge character was merely a coward, and he learned how to be brave because he had no choice. The charm and the humor with Liman and Cruise regale us with Barry’s adventures, as charming and as humorous as they are, feels kinda inappropriate for a movie about these levels of corruption and outright lawless banditry from the U.S. federal government. I mean, these are the events that have led to the conspiracy theory — which isn’t quite so farfetched and is supported by some good evidence, some of which we bear witness to here — that the CIA was actively involved in importing cocaine into the United States in the 1980s, and that the agency’s activities were in large part responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic. (See also: the intense 2014 film Kill the Messenger, which details the work of one journalist in the 1990s who uncovered the story.)
But here’s the thing: Should we be entertained by this story? You can’t even call American Made’s attitude cynical; it’s more a winking shrug of acceptance of a massive Uncle Sam-approved criminal enterprise, dispensed with panache and style galore; love that vintage ’70s color palette! But really: Is this how this particular story deserves to be told? Are we now this blithe and blasé about the depths to which America can sink?