American Made– We Are the Swamp

I am on record as not being all that much of a Tom Cruise fan. As an actor in the past, he has been just fair, and as for his Scientology fetish, let’s not go there. But ‘American Made’ is different. First of all, unlike all the Missions’ Impossible, this is a story about events that actually happened, involving a former TWA pilot who was recruited to work for the CIA in the late 70s and early 80s, and somewhere around 1986 was murdered, probably by ‘the good guys’. For just under two hours, the story of Barry Seal, fly boy from Baton Rouge is told, and what a story it is, involving drug, gun, and contraband running from the U.S. to Latin America and back again. At first, the project seemed semi-legit, working for the U.S. government, and shoot, there was lots of money involved, eventually. Barry however, rather like Oscar Wilde, could resist anything but temptation!

But Barry was one of those fellows who tended to leap before he looked, and while he might have been a quite good pilot, I’m thinking the rarefied air he flew in invaded his brain, as he made some really dumb mistakes, and ended up working with the Medellin drug cartele, and hanging out with Pablo Escobar, Daniel Noriega and other bad dudes in the early 80s. Sometimes Barry seemed ‘dumber than a bag of hammers’ to quote Kentucky boy George Clooney. But the real problem here was not mainly Barry. It was our government’s willingness to try and prop up corrupt dictators, try and change regimes in other countries, and in general meddle where we were not invited, including meddling with the Medellin drug lords. This was neither good statecraft nor good spycraft, it was just corrupt and stupid and it ended up making things worse, rather than better.

The problem of course with sending someone to Washington to drain the swamp when that person is part of the swamp, part of the problem, and susceptible to all sorts of temptations, like Barry, is that the old saying comes true—‘I have seen the enemy, the enemy is me’. Can one do bad things for a good cause and say the ends justify the means? Certainly not when the net effect of Barry’s escapades are: 1) we armed the wrong people; 2) we paid for the delivering of more drugs into America, including lots of cocaine. This is not an example of your tax dollars at work for good.

I enjoyed this movie, but with a tinge of sadness, as it is a semi-honest, semi-factual reflection of our own corrupt and dishonest governmental practices. I did enjoy the late 70s, early 80s soundtrack, and this is probably Cruise’s best acting forever, and the story is very linear and to the point, no filler. But this movie is not funny, its more tragedy than comedy. It is a tale of how we become what we profess to despise. It is a cautionary tale, not a family weekend fun thriller.


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