The Iran-Contra nearly tumbled the Reagan White House back in 1986; that was the scandal which the president eluded by simply saying he didn't remember anything. No one ever doubted that, especially after he developed Alzheimer's not long after leaving office.


But the Iran-Contra - and everything leading up to it - was one of the most confounding episodes in American history with plenty of double-crossing, double-dipping and double-dealing. One of the central characters from the onset was a pilot name Barry Seal who, depending on who you ask, worked for either the DEA or CIA. Well, the official position of the CIA is they know nothing about Seal or air planes.


But, according to Doug Liman's adaptation of Gary Spinelli's screenplay, the CIA not only knew Barry, but they were the driving agency that corrupted him.

Seal is portrayed by Tom Cruise and is a TWA pilot who occasionally smuggled Cuban Cigars into the country. (That part was fabricated, he was originally smuggling plastic explosives.) He is approached by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) to start taking pictures for the CIA because they had pictures of him smuggling the cigars. Seal agrees and is immediately assigned a nifty twin engine plane equipped with a camera.


Seal quits TWA despite protests from his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and starts his new "business" full time. Though his photos were extraordinary, he isn't making enough money to support his growing family. That problem is soon resolved when he is coersed into smuggling coccaine into the country for the Medillin Cartel's Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and Pablo Escabar (Maurico Mejia) who pay him lots of money if he can fly their product out of an extremely short runway.


This new enterprise causes him to either cut a new deal with the CIA and move his business to Mena Arkansas or go to prison in Louisiana. Again, despite Lucy's protests they move in the middle of the night. Soon his deals with the CIA have esculated to the point he is smuggling drugs, arms and Contras into and out of Mena.

Things continue to advance until they start getting out of control. The first major snafu is when is brother in law JB (Caleb Landry Jones) comes to stay with them and, as ususally happens when too many people know something, gets them exposed to the local law enforcement with his stupidity. From there, things start going down hill.


Cruise brings his usual high level of energy to the role and feeds off his old "Top Gun" character making him fun to watch, even if the story has been embellished a little. And that will depend on whose version you follow. Interestingly, the Wikipedia version is a throughly sanitized story that positioned Seal working for the DEA and not the CIA.


However, the Spartacus Educational website has a version that follows closer to Liman's adaptation complete with his involvement with Ollie North in the Iran Contra scandal and other nefarious activities. In fact, the film starts his career in 1978 when in reality, Seal was conducting illicit operations since the 1960's. (Some even have him involved in the Kennedy assasination.)


"American Made" is the second official film telling the story of Barry Seal. Dennis Hopper portrayed Seal in the 1991 "Doublecrossed" for cable. That version makes you wonder why Limna chose to change Seals wife's name from Debbie to Lucy (though Wright is more believable than the older Adrienne Barbeau was).


Domhnall Gleeson seems miscast as the CIA agent directing such an intricate project, it's hard to believe one could be that goofy and still be CIA. But the film otherwise moves along at a brisk pace condensing a life of crime into less than two hours. There was plenty of newsreel footage added to implicate President Reagan, Gov Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush but with no conclusive evidence.


Reading other accounts of Barry Seal makes you wonder if Liman was trying to make him a likable folk hero instead of the scum he was in real life?


"American Made" is an entertaining docudrama that attempts to make a totally corrupt individual more likable when in fact he was corrupt to the core - talented and gutsy...but willing to cut a deal with any snake for a price.   -- GEOFF BURTON