When Tom Cruise isn’t trying to push the ideas of an abusive madman who denied his occult roots but started a UFO cult, he occasionally stars in films. This is one of them.
Cruise plays Barry Seal, a complete and utter scumbag of a pilot who was running guns for the CIA, which wanted them to get to the Contras in Nicaragua and to other groups. Eventually he also started working for the Medellin cartel, which also wanted to get guns to guerrilla forces that they wanted to win and to get cocaine into the US from central America. Seal was a stupid hick of a pilot who got in over his head.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Seal’s CIA connection, and although it’s been turned into something more comedic, and it’s probably a bit too sympathetic to the sleazy real-life Seal, it’s relatively realistic (if not an actual biopic). Cruise is obviously not physically similar to Seal at all—he’s too short and not 300 pounds—but the narrative is not completely concocted. It is of course a story that’s been told in different ways before,
including last year’s The Infiltrator.
There are some good scenes, like one where he’s being chased by the DEA, crash-lands in suburbia covered with powder, and hands his kid rolls of money. That obviously never actually happened.
It’s good to see Cruise playing a bad guy, and to see that he is still capable of acting. In fact, despite all his Scientology bullshit he can look like a proper movie star. Caleb Landry Jones, who turns up in practically everything currently, turns in one of his better performances as Seal’s idiotic redneck brother in law J.D. J.D. is the one who almost wrecks it all for him—he has a big suitcase with dollar bills coming out it, what could that possibly be about? Seal’s dénouement happened in Arkansas, where Bill Clinton and his state attorney general were heavily involved in making sure he got off the hook.
The film has some timely aspects and is a reminder of just how fucked up the CIA can be. The White House played a big role in screwing Seal over, however, by releasing photos of Pablo Escobar in which Seal’s face was clearly visible. Seal was eventually convicted to serve thousands of hours of community service at the Salvation Army, but Escobar’s assassins turned up…
The film plays fast and loose with the facts, of course, and chronologicaly it’s all over the place. Nevertheless, it looks like Cruise has realised at last that he’s not a young leading man anymore and might have to do some edgier films as an actor. This one has done OK at the box office, and that might signal a return to his opting for films that are more like Magnolia and less like action thrillers. It has its funny moments and some good lines. However, it boggles my mind that twenty plus years after The Full Monty and many more, people are still using Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” in films—although otherwise it does have a good use of Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” when things start getting a bit paranoid.
There are some extras, of course: half an hour of short featurettes with the cast and about the aerial stunts. Cruise is of course a pilot
and from the looks of it a lot of stunts he did himself. The director Doug Liman has gotten the best out of Cruise with this and The Edge of Tomorrow (or Live, Die, Repeat as it’s been retitled on some DVDs), so the actor should stick with him.