by Alan Yudman
The story of Barry Seal is simply crazy. So maybe it needed a crazy movie to tell it well. Tom Cruise pairs up once again with Doug Liman to tell us about Seal, a former TWA pilot who ran drugs and guns to the Contras during the Reagan administration. It’s the genesis of what would be known as The Iran-Contra Affair.
Seal started by simply taking photos of communist insurgents in Central America while flying very low in his super fast plane. Then he started carrying messages for the CIA to Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.. Then he started ferrying cocaine to the United States for the Medellin cartel and was paid an insane amount of money for it.
Liman, working from a script by Gary Spinelli, has made a very stylish and funny movie. Funny drug kingpins. Funny CIA agents. Everyone is laughing all the way to the bank and ultimately their doom.
Cruise is pretty good. But not as good as he was in his last collaboration with Liman, EDGE OF TOMORROW. That movie forced him to tone down his “Cruise-iness” a bit. Not many winning smiles or much mugging for the camera in that film. I get that AMERICAN MADE forces him back into that box. Here he kind of combines his action hero skills with his charm to make Barry likable. I’m not sure Barry should be likable, but he is the hero of the story and the main character. I don’t think you could get Cruise to play an unlikable character.
All this indulgence is also Barry’s downfall. He seems to have no moral compass and just willingly goes along. He starts down a path that seems to have no way out. A fact made abundantly clear in the fate that befalls his brother-in-law.
My initial thought about all this was two fold. I laughed and then felt guilty about it because.. blech. How could you make fun of such criminal activity? There’s nothing funny about this. But maybe Liman and Spinelli are doing something very subversive here. On the surface we are laughing, but then we think about what is happening and the cynical nature of everyone involved and it reminds us how terrible all these people were. That’s pretty effective filmmaking.