You've seen "American Made" before. It's certainly not a new premise in film and it's certainly not a new enactment of the regular-man-gets-involved-with-booming-drug-cartel storyline; and still, it's a fun movie. Doug Liman's "American Made" is a take on the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot who begins to smuggle cocaine to Central America, all while photographing Communist guerrillas in secluded camps for the C.I.A.. Tom Cruise as Barry Seal, our energetic protagonist, is gung-ho until real bullets start to fly.
"American Made," like I said, isn't going to be the best movie you see about Pablo Escobar or the lavish and fleeting lifestyle drug lords revel in, but it is one of the best movies that captures just how fickle and uncertain the American dream is, and the unfortunate consequences that are suffered when you dream a little too big. Barry Seal is bored as a T.W.A pilot. His life is a little too comfortable, and he seems to long for something more outside of his familiar domesticity. His wife is expecting and Barry decides to take on a business venture that involves illegally transporting pounds of cocaine to Nicaragua.
And secretly, you want Barry to win. Not because of cocaine, but because you are Barry, a bored American tired of doing everything you're supposed to, going to bed at the same hour every night. You want Barry to make tons of money, and buy nice leather jackets, and do coke in the sky with his blonde wife—and he does all of these things, in excess and in style—but, you also know these type of adventures end at some point. When you're running out of space to stash stacks of cash in your mansion, there's a problem.
The catch is how Liman sets up the fall of Barry—which has been depicted time and time again through thick sentimentality like in Ted Demme's "Blow" (2001), or scathing rebellion like in Brian De Palma's "Scarface" (1983). Liman's take is so anticlimactic you wonder if you're supposed to feel numb or if you're experiencing some weird sympathy pain for Tom Cruise and all that coke he just had to transport. Everything falls apart and goes back to normal as if Barry, our all-American pilot, was never employed by the C.I.A. to begin with. His wife is left selling chicken at a fast food joint, and his children are left fatherless and supported by a chicken-serving salary.
Did I give something away? Not really. You know it is coming and you know it's supposed to. "American Made" doesn't spend any time developing a moral compass for the audience; whether or not you support drug use, drug cartels, or "alternative" revenue strategies is not the point. The fun that Barry experiences seems to justify the selfishness one would have to display to engage in drug smuggling and undercover C.I.A. operations (with a baby on the way, may I remind you). No hands are clean as Ronald Reagan briefly shows on the screen, his wife, Nancy Reagan, denouncing drugs, drugs, and drugs. You can say no, and I (and everyone else would also advise so), but Barry, having taken the safe route his entire life, decides upon the more troubling and fleeting American dream.
Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.
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