At Vue on 25th August, American Made sees Tom Cruise play a normal person (sort of) for the first time in ages, and it’s brilliant. With no CGI, no guns and no crazy spy technology, he talks his way into and out of trouble as real-life pilot-for-hire Barry Seal amid a whirlwind of drugs, sweat, mortal danger and terrible 1980s leisurewear.
But what exactly was it about the real life Barry Seal that fascinated Cruise and his director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity)? Here’s what you need to do if you want Cruise to play you in a film.
BE A PILOT
In American Made you’ll see Tom Cruise crash-land a plane on someone’s front lawn, leap out and ride off on a kid’s bike, trailing flurries of cash. Cruise is a pilot himself and loves to show off his flying skills on film, so you can see the attraction of playing Barry Seal, the disgraced TWA pilot who turned to flying light aircraft for anyone who’d hire him.
BE A DRUG SMUGGLER
One of those people was Pablo Escobar, the cocaine kingpin who paid Seal half a million dollars per shipment. Before that Seal had smuggled Quaaludes, the recreational sedative that featured so heavily in The Wolf of Wall Street – and had been busted by the Drug Enforcement Agency. To escape jail, he’d become their paid informant.
TAKE RIDICULOUS RISKS
This was where Barry Seal’s life took a turn for the bizarre. His DEA handler wanted to catch bigger and bigger fish, so he gave Seal an entire C-123 transport plane, the type used to move tanks. Before long, Seal was on a secret landing strip watching the Nicaraguan army help Escobar load millions of dollars’ worth of coke onto his US government-provided plane. Oh, and he was working for the CIA too.
MIX WITH FAMOUS PEOPLE
Around that time the CIA were selling arms to Iran to fund right-wing rebels in Nicaragua, a scandal that almost brought down Ronald Reagan’s administration. So that’s why Oliver North pops up in the film (North was the Marine Colonel convicted for it), as does George W. Bush - at the time a hard-drinking southern businessman who’d been sacked as a pilot. Not unlike Seal himself.
HAVE A WAY WITH WORDS
The real-life Seal was undeniably quick-thinking, although even he couldn’t talk his way out of the million-dollar price put on his head by the Medellin Cartel. In the film, he narrates events retrospectively and with witty embellishment - which is what makes it such a refreshing change from Tom Cruise’s usual furrowed-brow heroics.
“There’s definitely an anti-authoritarian streak to Barry Seal,” says director Doug Liman. “He really didn’t care what he was flying, whether it was guns for the CIA, or drugs for the cartel. There’s something that really appeals about him.”
Find out about Barry Seal for yourself when American Made is released on 25th August. Get your tickets here.