American Made is a semi-fictionalized version of the life of Barry Seal. I say fictionalized, because in the movie Seal is an airline pilot who is using his job to smuggle cuban cigars to the United States from a supplier. He is then approached by the CIA to take aerial photographs of communist insurgents in Central America. Later he is told to smuggle weapons to the anti-communists. However, drug lords pressure him, possibly at the threat of death, to smuggle cocaine to the United States. So Mr. Seal ends up with quite a profitable business, transporting 'goods' in both directions.
In real life, Seal was a drug smuggler from the outset, who also got fired from his airline job for smuggling explosives, to which he escaped conviction on a technicality. The producers of the film admit that they took liberties with the truth, and this might make for a more likable main character, but I am bothered by any movie that claims to show historical events, but then distorts those events for entertainment purposes.
Seal's life did not end well, because he turned informant against the drug cartels and was murdered. Here the movie shows us the truth, but the ending made me feel disappointed. It might have been better to have a completely fictional character with a more entertaining ending.
Another place where the movie plays loose with the facts is that it shows a speech by Ronald Reagan, where the president shows the American people a picture of drug lords that also has Seal in the photograph. In the movie, this is how the drug lords knew that Seal betrayed them, so they sent hitmen after him. In reality, Reagan showed the picture after Seal was already dead.
Despite all my objections, the movie is fun to watch. It portrays Seal as someone who starts out fairly innocent, but gets pulled deeper and deeper into more and more dangerous territory. As such, he really is a fictional character.
Tom Cruise as Seal doesn't have his usual movie star persona, but seems more like an ordinary guy who is also a little redneck. I don't know if this is intentional, or if Cruise has lost some of his charm.
Rating: * * *