Life is stranger than fiction; this paraphrase of a Mark Twain’s famous quote, may come in mind, when watching American Made. It is a film based on true events, albeit the large creative freedom the filmmakers took in its making. Directed by Doug Liman to a screenplay by Gary Spinelli, American Made tells the story of Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot who turned a drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel during the 1980s. Cutting a deal with the DEA to avoid a prolong jail time, Seal ends up an informant.
Tom Cruise stars as the protagonist, Barry Seal. Granted, Cruise looks nothing like Seal in terms of appearance. The real Seal was heavy, with a different built, and was, in fact, nicknamed 'El Gordo', Spanish for The Fat Man. Yet, Cruise, energetic and wild as ever, carries the essence of the character; one that lives for adventure. The real Seal was quoted as saying, “The exciting thing to me is to get into a life and death situation.” People who knew him, testified that while he made good money from his smuggling deals, it was the adventure and adrenaline-rush that really motivated Seal. And that is enough for any Hollywood filmmaker, to turn into a movie.
On the upside, Cruise and the supporting cast give excellent performances; lively, believable, and engaging. The film’s style works well. It combines real TV newsclips from the time, self-taped monologues by Seal, interlaced with plenty of action scenes, including up in the skies. It is all very entertaining. Yet Seal, the fictional one, seems to be celebrated more as a hero than the criminal he was. And that is one downer. His film character never seems to develop much, nor go anywhere. He starts his journey, and remains throughout, an adventure-seeking guy, with a sense for a quick buck and an attractive deal; that, regardless of who offers it. Seal reminds me of Catch 22’s Milo Minderbinder; the powerful mess officer, who builds his own black-market operation within the theater of WWII, rendering his extensive services to both the Germans and the Allied Forces… The real Seal, so it is said, did try to redeem himself once switching sides and working with the DEA. That is not in much evident in the film.
American Made gives a glimpse into an interesting character, and manages to intrigue. Yet, it lacks in character development and real insights. With many historical inaccuracies, audiences are advised to listen to director Liman's own description of his film: "a fun lie based on a true story."