Tom Cruise kicks it as outrageous 'American Made' anti-hero

Check out the first trailer for this irreverent, real-life tale of 1980s drug smuggling and CIA shenanigans.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read
David James

A plane crashes on a suburban street, and Tom Cruise stumbles out, covered in cocaine. That outlandish image is just one of the unhinged moments in the first trailer for "American Made".

In the forthcoming true-life crime tale, Cruise plays Barry Seal, an airline pilot who turned to drug smuggling for Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s. He also worked for the US Drug Enforcement Administration and, allegedly, for the CIA. Here's the trailer, released Monday. (Warning: There's some adult language.)

The director is Doug Liman, who directed "Swingers" and "The Bourne Identity" and worked with Cruise on 2014's "Edge of Tomorrow". 

Showing the "American Made" trailer to press in London, Liman said he was immediately attracted to the script's portrayal of Seal as a cocky anti-hero. "He developed an air force, running [it] out of this little town in Arkansas", the director marveled.

But it was only when another real-life character appeared in the script that Liman discovered he had a personal connection to the story.

That real-life character was none other than Oliver North, the man at the core of the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. Seal smuggled drugs out of Nicaragua, as part of the complex scandal. Liman's father, Arthur Liman, was chief counsel for the US Senate's investigation into the affair. "Oliver North was his nemesis", Doug Liman said of his father. 


Tom Cruise takes to the skies in "American Made".

David James

That personal connection meant Liman could call some of his late father's associates and find out what really happened. "There's certain things I loved in the script but it turns out weren't true, and I made Gary [Spinelli, the writer,] take them out. The reality is so outrageous you don't need to go further than that", Liman said.

The trailer shows the film's irreverent take on these brazen real-life events. 

"Even though my father ran the investigation into Iran-Contra, which was a really serious violation of the Constitution by a sitting president", recalled Liman, "he would come home at night laughing about some of the outrageous things he had seen that day".

The film was shot on location in remote parts of Colombia, with lots of aerial filming. Sadly, two people were killed in a plane crash during filming in 2015.

Both Cruise and Liman are pilots, and Cruise himself would often fly the plane as the crew flew alongside filming him. In one tense incident, Cruise, Liman and a back-up pilot were sent into the air to shoot as darkness fell, with no film in the camera. By the time they collected film and took off again, it was dark. When they circled round to land, the production team had packed up and left the landing strip unlit. So Cruise landed the plane in the dark by the light of a pick-up truck's headlights.

"He's Tom Cruise", Liman said. "Of course he had perfect night vision". 

"American Made" is set for release in September.

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