The last time Tom Cruise and Doug Liman worked together, they gave us the excellent Edge Of Tomorrow (or, depending on what day of the week it is, Live Die Repeat. Or Edge Of Tomorrow: Live Die Repeat), a movie in which Cruise played against type as a cowardly anti-hero. Now, the duo have re-teamed for American Made, a movie which appears to bring us another atypical Cruise protagonist. As Barry Seal, a real-life pilot-turned-drug smuggler who worked with the CIA and Pablo Escobar in the 1980s, Cruise is as far away from Ethan Hunt as it’s possible to get. The trailer for the movie dropped yesterday, and we spoke to Liman, the American who made American Made, for the skinny…
Who is Barry Seal?
As the trailer says, American Made is ‘based on the unbelievable true story’ of Seal, a pilot who became involved with both the CIA and the Medellin Cartel, including Pablo Escobar himself. His Wikipedia entry is here, if you want to spoil the movie for yourself. “I really think of Barry Seal as a UPS for illicit cargo,” says Liman. “If it absolutely has to get there overnight and it’s illegal, Barry Seal is your guy. He really didn’t care much about what he was flying, whether it was guns for the CIA, or drugs for the cartel. He was extremely reliable — who doesn’t want reliability?”
A Different Kind Of Hero
This is not Mission: Impossible 6. (That movie is currently filming right now, as it happens.) This is a very different kind of character for Cruise — Barry Seal never holds a gun, for instance. “He’s a pilot. It never occurred to me to give Barry Seal a gun. But there’s definitely an anti-authoritarian streak to him,” says Liman. “There’s something that really appeals to me about Barry Seal pushing the envelope.”
Cruising At Altitude
The trailer starts with Barry making an impromptu landing in a plane filled with cocaine, in an attempt to outwit the authorities. “That’s a compilation of many outrageous landings that Barry Seal had,” says Liman. “That’s the kind of flying Barry Seal could do.” Naturally, Cruise — being Cruise — did his own flying for the movie, including one sequence where he had to land a plane on a tiny airstrip as dusk fell rapidly.
Sealed With A Kiss
Sarah Wright plays Lucy Seal, Barry’s second wife and party to the events that unfold as Barry’s life as a smuggler takes shape. “I really wanted to come up with a unique relationship,” says Liman. “It’s not a deep relationship at first, it’s very superficial. I wanted to see if, through the course of the outrageous adventures that Barry dragged this poor woman on, if they could get to a place of actual love.”
Domhnall Gleeson plays Monty Schaefer, Seal’s CIA handler and a man possibly getting too big for his britches. “Normally in spy movies the person that the hero deals with is at the centre of power, surrounded by video screens, and they’re old and grizzled. I’m no stranger to that dynamic,” laughs Liman, the director of The Bourne Identity. “I wanted to turn it on its head. So the person Tom Cruise should be worried about is a punk in a cubicle who’s determined to advance to an office.”
If you’ve read that Wikipedia entry, you’ll know it isn’t all shits and giggles for Barry. Yet the trailer has an irreverent, almost comedic tone — a very deliberate choice on Liman’s part. “I made a film called Go that also dealt with some drugs and had a very irreverent, comedic tone,” he explains. That stemmed from an incident where, as a young man, he was arrested and imprisoned for one night. “I felt like I learned more in that one night than in four years of college. I saw the world through a different lens — the worst possible things can actually be the best. And that follows into Barry Seal…”
Based On A True Story...
When Liman first read the script, by Gary Spinelli, he was fascinated to find that Oliver North, the former Marine lieutenant colonel involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal, popped up as a minor character. This gave Liman something of a personal connection — his late father, Arthur, was the Chief Counsel in the Senate’s investigation of the Affair. Liman Sr. is not a character in the movie, but North remains so, along with the likes of Pablo Escobar and George W. Bush. “The film is decidedly not political,” says Liman. “Left-wing, right-wing, there’s nobody whose hands are clean.”
First Prize Is A Cadillac
This fun scene, where Seal has been arrested and attempts to brazenly bribe law officials with the promise of a Cadillac each, “did not happen,” admits Liman. “We compressed what was a two-year odyssey with law enforcement into a much tighter package.” The filmmaker’s eye was drawn to the part of the story where Seal was set up by the CIA in the small Arkansas town of Mena. “They were off the beaten path, and he built this massive gunrunning and drug-smuggling empire in this little remote hamlet.” In fact, Mena was the film’s original title.
The trailer features voiceover from Cruise as Seal. “There is voiceover in the finished film,” says Liman. “But I wasn’t interested in making a movie where Tom is narrating for the audience. The voiceover ultimately comes from a scene that’s in the film. Is Barry an unreliable narrator? I think he’s decidedly a little sloppy with the details…”
American Made is released in the UK on 25 August.