Film Reviews

AMERICAN MADE

By • Oct 7th, 2017 •

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What happens to all that money and jewelry? How come guys like this never have an exit plan?

 

The march to judge Cruise’s career death is premature. His charm and energy and willingness to look like hell elevate this movie. He’s terrific and its a lot of fun.eath

Another drug mule movie? Well, when Tom Cruise is playing the “mule”, you can be assured that the character will have tons of personality and charm. Cruise never lets me down. He always gets the first choice to pick the cutest puppy of the litter.

Has Tom Cruise ever had to make a movie for a mortgage payment? After Steven Spielberg, every screenwriter really wants their work to land on Cruise’s reader’s pile. Even if it’s about old ladies in a nursing home.

Having directed Cruise in EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014), Doug Liman understands the Cruise template. Liman has displayed his action cred with MR. & MRS. SMITH (2005) and THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), making AMERICAN MADE the perfect algorithm for a hit. And lest we forget, Liman directed SWINGERS (1996).

The legendary Barry Seal (Cruise) was a bored TWA pilot caught on tape making a little side money – bringing Cuban cigars into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico – due to the fact that as a TWA pilot his bag was not searched.

Caught on tape by CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), its either prison or cooperate. The cooperation has one delicious perk, Seal will be flying the fastest plane in production. He’s also a pawn in a bigger plot by Schafer, just sleazy enough to play on Barry’s freewheeling personality. Hell, he’s working for the C. I. A.!

Barry is untouchable or so he thinks. Schafer’s instructions are rather simple: fly to Panama, meet up with Col. Noriega, give him an envelope filled with cash and receive intelligence reports. Give reports to Schafer. Barry promptly quits TWA and is given a really nice faux business by the CIA.

Barry’s supposedly clandestine trips are being watched by Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and the head of the Medellín Cartel, Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía).

Why fly back with an empty plane when you could pack the plane with bales of cocaine and drop those bales in a field in the U.S.? They offer him $2,000 for each kilo.

Barry doesn’t know how to convert kilos into pounds but with the plane carrying more weight than designed for, he’s in.

Once in bed with the Medellín Cartel, there is no retirement. The operation gets so big that Barry hires 3 pilots and now has 3 super-fast planes.

Schafer relocates Barry, his pregnant wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and their two small children to nowhere – Mena, Arkansas. When Lucy freaks out at the awful house they have been given, Barry has to come clean about what he has been doing. He gives Lucy a duffle bag filled with money. She’s happy now and starts decorating.

Mena is a boarded-up town with Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons) and his wife/secretary Judy (Lola Kirke) on duty watching paint peel. For Barry, there are more perks: 2,000 acres of land, an airport, and way too much-unlaundered cash. Let’s not forget the amassing of 90 lbs. of gold jewelry. Filmmakers love to show bales of money flying out of a plane or being left in the front seat of an unlocked car. It makes everyone in the audience cringe. We think: If I had that much money, I’d do this, and this and have a bug-out bag ready at the door. I’d follow the example of Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein and have a surgically altered body double.

If any kingpin needs my help with a Walmart truck filled with cash or how to buy a little-known country, my email is below.

Eventually, Barry will bury a few million, have a closet full of Samsonite suitcases (Barry says they are the best), and several personally-owned banks. He even has his own bank vault.

Meanwhile, Schafer knows about the cocaine side business but there is a more pressing problem the CIA wants to be handled. Now here is a good time to go back to the beginning. Barry is making end-of-life confessional videotapes and he explains the next phase of his business.

Something is going on in Nicaragua. Schafer has Barry make pit stops to deliver guns to the right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua working against the elected Sandanista government. The Contras are hardly a well-armed, well-trained army. They are more interested in Barry’s shoes and sunglasses. Barry eventually gets them to play nice. But now that President Reagan has backed the Contras, he has to train them. So Schafer has a military compound built on Barry’s “property” and has the Contras brought in. Most of them vanish once they hit U.S. soil.

Its Lucy’s brother JB (Caleb Landry Jones) – there is always a meth-head brother – to bring down the perfect running-like-a-charm operation. The good-for-nothing brother gets arrested which threatens not only the CIA’s involvement but the Medellín Cartel. Escobar must have a plant inside the large Seal household. He knows everything that is happening and there is an offer to handle the brother problem.

Which brings us to the Iran-Contra scandal and the notorious involvement of Col. Oliver North.

Screenwriter Gary Spinelli ties all this together is a very neat package. Liman showers Cruise with so many opportunities to do the things he excels at, do his own stunts and fly that plane, it’s an on-screen romance. Cruise is at ease, playful, and goes all goosey-loosey. He “moons” his family.

What happens to all that money and jewelry? How come guys like this never have an exit plan?

On December 2, 1993, Pablo Escobar, the wealthiest drug kingpin the world has ever seen, attempted to flee from a hideout in his home base of Medellín, Colombia, by scrambling across a neighboring rooftop. Instead, he was cut down by gunfire, and the resulting image has been seared into the public memory — the bloody corpse of the world’s most powerful drug lord. At the time of his death, Escobar’s estimated known the net worth of US $30 billion by the early 1990s (equivalent to about $55 billion as of 2016), making him one of the richest men in the world in his prime.

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This is what continues to trouble me about the Escobar finale. $55 Billion and he’s caught making a phone call to his son! Why didn’t he buy an African under-developed country (and support the entire population) or an island surrounded by a personal army and patrolled by planes? If $55 billion does not get you security, what the hell is money for? For a complete list of Victoria Alexander’s movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to http://www.rottentomatoes.com/author/author-3571/

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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