Hollywood@Home: American Made

Tom Cruise is carrying more than luggage on his private plane trips to Central America in “American Made.”

Tom Cruise is no lightweight in the acting department. He uses his box office power to show off his thespian chops every once in a while, and “American Made” is just that kind of film. My only time to see Cruise in person was during a 1989 Dallas press conference for “Born on the Fourth of July,” another example of how the megastar can be much more than just a pair of upper biceps and a terrific smile. He’s really got it going on this time in “American Made.”

“American Made” is very loosely based on the true life story of a former TWA pilot who flew covert missions for the CIA. Barry Seal was also a drug smuggler from the mid-1970’s until his untimely death in 1986. Seal was reportedly assassinated by drug cartel hitman after testifying in several high-profile drug trials.

The film, crisply directed by “The Borne Identity’s” Doug Liman, tells you right up front that it’s “based on a true lie.” Anyone who wants to know the events that preceded the Iran-Contra affair should look elsewhere for the facts. “American Made” is a film that more-or-less whitewashes Seal’s story while dragging him through the mud nonetheless. Seal was a distinctly flawed individual who caught some amazing breaks before being gunned down in the 1980’s.

Cruise plays Seal as a good-natured charmer trying to skim off as much money as he can from his skills as a pilot. He smiles, he worries, he flies, he gloats and he doesn’t seem to have much of a handle on the great wealth he accumulates after the CIA moves him and his family to Mena, Arkansas. The Barry Seal you see onscreen is the man Cruise wants you to see: a guy with limited skills and a lot of dumb luck. It’s an energetic and convincing performance.

Writer Gary Spinelli and Liman are more interested in dramatic action than in historical accuracy. Some of the film’s characters like Seal’s CIA contact (Domhnall Gleeson) were created for dramatic purposes. And, the film implies that Seal’s involvement with drug smuggling sprang out of his clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA, when the opposite may have the case. There are indications from people who knew Seal that the pilot was already running a drug smuggling business when he was contacted by the CIA. I think if you stick with the film’s declaration that it’s “based on a true lie,” you’ll be just fine. Check out “American Made.” It’s not your typical Tom Cruise film, and that’s a good thing. Grade: A-

Some Quickie Facts About “American Made”

Release Date: January 2, 2018

Formats: 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD

Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Tom Cruise plays one of America’s most wanted in “American Made.”