AMERICAN MADE: TOM CRUISE MOVIE FABRICATES HISTORY TO ATTACK RONALD REAGAN.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, a real-life Louisiana TWA pilot-turned-drug smuggler for the Medellin Cartel who got rich in the 1970s and 1980s before he was eventually busted. Desperate, he volunteered to turn informant for the DEA and earned the wrath of the drug lords after photographing some of them with cameras the CIA had installed on his plane . All of this is shown in American Made, but as far as I can tell, most of the rest is fabricated. Seal is, for instance, shown working for the CIA first to conduct spy missions, then becoming a drug trafficker while also delivering CIA rifles to the Contras, and then welcoming the Contras to his Mena, Ark. headquarters for training. Yet according to the author of what appears to be a well-sourced book on Seal, the pilot was not a CIA employee or asset. That’s awkward: Seal’s supposed CIA gig is the central element of this movie. It’s as if it turned out that Goodfellas narrator Henry Hill wasn’t in the mafia at all but was instead hijacking trucks and burying bodies as a foot soldier for the National Endowment for the Arts.
American Made could have been called American Made-Up. It amounts to an enormously contrived effort by Doug Liman, the son of the Senate’s lead counsel in the Iran-Contra hearings, to reshape the tangle of that scandal into a larkish Tom Cruise adventure. Truth was not an impediment. “We’re not making a biopic,” Liman has said, confessing that during filming he would dream up on the spot entertaining new exploits for Seal: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we did this, or funny if we did that?” He calls the film a “fun lie” in publicity notes. Yet American Made has no core to hold it together if it uses a real person, real events, and even news clips of Reagan talking about matters discussed in the movie, to cloak its many fabrications in history. We love Goodfellas because we know it happened, because it’s a confession. American Made borrows the confession motif and many other elements from Goodfellas, but it’s mostly just Liman and Cruise fun-lying.
Flashback: Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday excuses massive inaccuracies in Sean Penn’s 2010 Valerie Plame biopic (not least of which, the absence of Plame leaker Richard Armitage, by writing, “In Washington, watching fact-based political movies has become a sport all its own, with viewers hyper-alert to mistakes, composite characters or real stories hijacked by political agendas. But what audiences often fail to take into account is that a too-literal allegiance to the facts can sometimes obscure a larger truth…Thus, the movies about Washington that get the right stuff right — or get some stuff wrong but in the right way — become their own form of consensus history. ‘Follow the money,’ then, assumes its own totemic truth. Ratified through repeated viewings in theaters, on Netflix and beyond, these films become a mutual exercise in creating a usable past. We watch them to be entertained, surely, and maybe educated. But we keep watching them in order to remember.”
Winston Smith, call your office.