American Made

… Central American approved

N one of this can happen without people willing to break the law.  A lot.  Yes, the reasons matter. But at the end of the day, you can’t be running guns to Nicaragua without congressional approval and still claim the law and order high ground. This applies to opportunistic pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) and it applies to Iran-Contra punching bag Colonel Oliver North.

Morality murkiness is a proud American tradition. The title American Made is well considered in describing average-TWA-jockey-turned-drug-running-gazillionaire Barry Seal. His name is really Barry Seal? That’s so close to Bobby Seale, it threw me several times in the film. But those two couldn’t be any more different if they were mismatched star-bellied sneetches. The amazing thing about the details of this story are not the convolution, but the fact that it lasted as long as it did. Barry Seal was simply a Top Gun wannabe with neither conscience nor moral center. In the late 1970s, the CIA noticed both of these facets in Barry Seal, and sent agent “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson) to “convince” Barry of a freelancing future.

It didn’t take much convincing. I imagine the CIA strongarms most of the guys they have over a barrel. Barry was genuinely excited by the idea of strafing runs –does that term apply to camera usage only?—over Central American combat campgrounds. It could have ended at that, but a Columbian drug cartel got a hold of Barry and decided to make Seal their mule. One would think, once again, that a lot of strong-arming would be involved, but Barry seemed genuinely excited about running drugs to Louisiana swampland.

Oh, and there was money, and then there was the Reagan era which introduced direct contact with arms and rebel soldiers. I assume you know the Iran-Contra scandal, yes? Barry’s scheme was even more insane. By the time Barry Seal erected his Arkansas money laundering empire, he was taking American guns intended for Nicaraguan Contras, delivering them to Columbian drug lords for muscle, picking up a shipment of coke, delivering that to Nicaragua where it would be loaded onto boats and smuggled to the United States through the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s where I get messed up, because I have no idea where the coordination of picking up Contra rebels and sneaking them into the US for secret Arkansas boot camp purposes comes in. And everywhere Barry stopped, there was a duffle bag full of cash dumped in his lap; most of the cash got dumped in a hole in the backyard. Barry barely buried a burly bag before being bequeathed beyond.

I’m of two minds here: one is that this tale is full of exaggeration. Beautiful, wicked, hilarious exaggeration. However, the second tells me that in terms of scope, audacity, illegality, and moral ambiguity, the specs of the Iran-Contra affair were not terribly different from the claims that Barry makes. I.e. yeah, this is believable.  One might ask: “What lengths did the Reagan-led United States go to rid the world of communist threat?”  The better question is: “What lengths wouldn’t it go?” Would it employ a drug running tool to fly weapons, coke, and soldiers all over North America on the off-chance that a goal of stemming Russian influence in the Western Hemisphere be reached? Oh, Hell yes. And you jokers pretending the Russian influence in our 2016 election isn’t a big deal are reaching heights of hypocrisy heretofore unknown. This used to be all we cared about as a Reagan-loving nation.  As Americans, we used to tolerate illegal activity on the premise that there would be no Russian influence in our democracy; now, we tolerate illegal activity to assure that there is Russian influence in our democracy.  Thank you, Trump voters — whatever you think hypocrisy is, you’ve done it better.

As for Barry, well, this is a very entertaining movie about a guy who redefines opportunism. He smuggled anything to anywhere entirely for money he couldn’t even count. As I said above, the surprising part isn’t the story itself, but how long it went on. Eventually something had to give, right? Now, had American Made pre-dated Lord of War or, at least, War Dogs, I’d have rated it a bit higher. But the cynical war profiteering angle has been done recently, and done a touch better than this.

♪Well he was an American fool
Praised for mediocrity
He couldn’t help thinkin’ that there
Was a little more dough to make
After all, this is an evil world
With lots of devils to sell to
Yeah, he’ll probably die tryin’
He had one more delivery
He was gonna make

Guns here at night
Take the cargo, baby
Make you feel all right
He was an American fool♫

Rated R, 115 Minutes
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Gary Spinelli
Genre: Drunk history, gold medal edition
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Barry Seal
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: The guys who made War Dogs last year

♪ Parody Inspired by “American Girl”

RIP, Tom Petty. You will be missed.

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