The real Barry Seal was tall, overweight and, by some accounts, possessed a larger-than-life personality. Actor Tom Cruise works hard to at least capture one of those attributes in Doug Liman’s “based on a true story” film of Seal’s criminal exploits in the 1980s.
Cruise flashes his megawatt smile a lot in "American Made" as he portrays an ordinary airline pilot who winds up a highly paid drug smuggler for the Medellin Cartel while also working for the American CIA in a scheme that eventually evolved into the Iran-contra scandal during the Reagan era. The role seems especially suited for Cruise, especially since it seems to tap that boyish devil-may-care attitude from way back in his “Risky Business” days. But, what’s sorely lacking is any clue about the motivation behind those pearly whites. Other than greed. Oh, and making boatloads of cash.
One thing that is clear: Don’t bother poring over web bios about the real Seal.
Liman and likely Cruise use the public record as only a sketchy outline for their film that glorifies the outlaw fantasy of a man who raked in so much cash he literally couldn’t find a way to hide it all, much less spend it. As another cardboard cutout, Sarah Wright (as Seal’s wife, Lucy) also does her best to look concerned and fret nervously at the right moments, but when her character simply fails to forcefully question her husband’s shady actions – which literally pose physical and emotional risks for herself and her kids – the woman’s sanity must surely be questioned.
Set in the late 1970s-early ‘80s, “American Made” smooths out the timeline in Seal’s criminal record, staking out the beginning with the relatively innocent offense of sneaking Cuban cigars into the U.S. (though, actually, he was caught transporting explosives). Recognized by a CIA spook named Monty “Shafer” (Domhnall Gleeson) for his particular set of skills, Barry is drawn into a scheme to help the U.S. military arm the Sandinistas in El Salvador in order to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua.
However, in the midst of delivering loads of guns, the guys down south figure he doesn’t have to go back home in an empty plane. So, next thing you know, he’s dropping plastic-wrapped kilos of cocaine in Louisiana swampland and making lots and lots of money. After a while, Lucy realizes her husband is no longer working for a legit airline, but seems to enjoy not having to worry about money anymore. She’s so comfortable, she and Barry start having a brood of kids.
The audience, no doubt, will wonder about a lot of the questionable things this couple does, but Liman is adept at smoke and mirrors, so questions get tossed to the wind as another risky endeavor grabs our attention.
The movie is fast-paced and somewhat fun in a twisted way, but that’s as long as you don’t try to pair the facts with the fantasy.
Tempo grade: C+
“American Made” is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.
It is showing daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos
Tempo grade: D
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material and some drug references
Mitchell Storyteller 7
This remake of the 1990 hit sci-fi thriller proceeds on the assumption audiences have never seen the original and/or know nothing about medicine. On both of those scores, director Niels Arden Oplev and screenwriter Ben Ripley are probably right, but that doesn’t make this tepid skip through the afterlife any easier to swallow.
Here’s the premise this time around: A highly intelligent, but haunted young medical student named Courtney (Ellen Page) coerces a small group of her classmates to help her with a risky experiment. She wants to intentionally “flatline” – or die – for a few minutes in order to study the effects. She claims it’s cutting-edge research for which they will all become famous.
The experience results in heightened intelligence, which the other students envy because they are all struggling through med school. So, gradually, one by one, they try it. Results vary, but each discovers they have some kind of emotional baggage that comes up that they will have to deal with, which in modern cinematic terms means we get to see a lot of CGI effects and ghostly images.
Kiefer Sutherland, who appeared in the original, has a cameo as a professor, but not as the same character he played before. Co-stars include Nina Dobrev, Diego Luna, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons.
This film will be screened daily. It was reviewed from an opening weekend screening.
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
MPAA rating: Not rated
Movies at the TCA
Django Reinhardt (Reda Kateb) was one of the most brilliant pioneers of European jazz and the father of Gypsy swing. “Django” grippingly portrays one chapter in the musician’s eventful life and is a poignant tale of survival. Constant danger, flight and the atrocities committed against his family could not make him stop playing.
Jordan Mintzer, writing in the Feb. 9 edition of Variety online, states, “The legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt remains one of the great jazzmen to emerge from Europe in the 20th century, recording hundreds of memorable tracks during his lifetime, playing with the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins, and influencing countless artists in the decades that followed his untimely death from a stroke at the age of 43. His music has also graced the soundtracks of dozens of movies, including a swath of Woody Allen films (‘Sweet and Lowdown’ is a playful [homage] to him) and anything ranging from ‘Lacombe Lucien’ to ‘The Matrix.’ But there’s much less known about Reinhardt’s short yet highly productive life, which is why the French biopic Django offers up a welcome, if somewhat limited, corrective.”
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 8) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Oct. 9-11).
Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.