The Culture Movies

'American Made' depicts drug cartels as occasion for blithe derring-do

The nefarious entanglements of real-life figure Barry Seal’s operations, jauntily detailed in the film, are depicted as high-flying fun.

'American Made' stars Tom Cruise (l.) and Sarah Wright Olsen (r.).
David James/Universal Pictures/AP
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  • Peter Rainer
    Film critic

In “American Made,” Tom Cruise plays the real-life figure Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who ran drugs for the Medellín cartel as well as money and guns between Latin America and the United States in the 1980s with backing from the Drug Enforcement Agency, operations that ultimately blossomed into the Iran-contra scandal.

The nefarious entanglements of Seal’s operations, jauntily detailed in the film’s quick-paced narrative, are supposed to be high-flying fun, but I found it difficult to feel as hepped up about the high jinks as director Doug Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli intended. Drug cartels should not be made to seem an occasion for blithe derring-do. Ditto the Iran-contra malfeasance. Cruise gives his energetic all to the role, but he, too, doesn’t seem to be quite aware that Seal was morally compromised far beyond the shallow confines of this film. Grade: C+ (Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.)

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