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American Made - Film Review

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Published August 23rd 2017
Life is stranger than fiction

"Once you set up a covert operation to supply arms and money, it's very difficult to separate it from the kind of people who are involved in other forms of trade, and especially drugs. There is a limited number of planes, pilots and landing strips. By developing a system for supply of the Contras, the US built a road for drug supply into the US."

Former CIA agent David MacMichael

This may well be one of the most engaging movies Cruise has made, released in the same year as one of the worst, the totally un-engaging Mummy. Rotten Tomatoes gives American Made ratings in the nineties. Your ageing reviewer would agree - it is right up there.

Cruise plays Barry Seal, an amazing adrenaline loving former TWA pilot with a low threshold of boredom and a dysfunctional moral compass who becomes the kingpin in a shadowy black operation (allegedly CIA related) smuggling arms and drugs to fund and equip the Contras' attempt to overcome the democratically elected government of Nicaragua.

Not that Seal is motivated by patriotism, nor indeed by money he soon literally has more cash that he knows what to do with. Essentially his adrenaline fuelled roller coaster ride is to survive and to stay one step ahead of the FBI and the DEA and to retain the trust of the Medellin Cartel which to a large extent he has helped to create. Such a suicidal balancing act must surely end in tears as Seal signs himself up to the shadowy ICA to save himself a lifetime in jail.

So we have Cruise going with the flow, taking extraordinary risks. If this were fiction (say Mission Impossible) the improbable dramas and hair-breath escapes, the thumbing of his nose at authority, the hilarious affrontery and bravado of Seal would simply be great entertainment, not to be taken seriously.

And in this movie, it is all-involving and at times, very funny. Did Cruise, one wonders, really do his own nail-biting stunt landing of a plane in a suburban street?

Problem is, on the other hand, it is the depiction of a man who sees himself as a patriot, yet who is complicit in subverting Congressional orders not to fund or arm the Contras, who creates the Escobar drug empire and who (funded by government money) orchestrates the flood of cocaine into the United States.

The difference between him and Oliver North, the White House aide found guilty of being the master-mind behind the Iran Contra scandal, is that North was given a Presidential pardon and traded on his notoriety to become a radio talk show host.

Seal, betrayed by his handlers, meets a very different fate.

While depicting Seal as going with the flow, totally unconcerned by the havoc he is creating, this movie also creates disturbing images of the gulf between the political appearances of the time and its reality Nancy Reagan sweetly fronting the war on drugs while from within the White House the CIA was aiding and abetting the cocaine trade Ronald Reagan presenting the Contras as patriots, and part of the war on Communism, while we see their anarchy, incompetence and veniality.

Your ageing reviewer, who remembers watching live the Congressional Hearing as it grilled Oliver North, can attest that some of the more improbable aspects of this movie are a matter of public record.

It is a brilliantly choreographed and scripted movie, with an uncomfortably confronting depiction of a dystopian administration.

Well worth seeing.
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Why? One of the best Tom Cruise movies
Where: Cinemas across Australia
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by Chris Small on 23/08/2017
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