Tom Cruise stumbled earlier this year with the would-be horror/action/comedy remake of The Mummy (2017), but now he’s back in form with a comedic true story about pilot Barry Seal, and with Doug Liman in the director’s chair, it’s full-steam ahead for a film that is loaded with a lot of fun scenes and dramatic moments and is a good time at the movies, even if it is maybe packing a loaded punch that is hard to take.
So Barry Seal is a Baton Rouge pilot in the late 70’s who really isn’t happy with where he is, until one day he is approached by a CIA agent going by the name Schafer, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who talks him into working for the CIA as a reconnaissance man who flies over all the Latin American countries. Well, that starts out all fine and well, but soon Barry meets with three of the arguably biggest drug lords the world has ever seen: Jorge Ochoa, Carlos Ledher, and Pablo Escobar, and strikes a deal where he will move their cocaine into the US. Soon Schafer sees greener pastures for Seal and instead makes him fly back and forth to help the Contras in an effort to train them by bringing them into the US. Ok, I’m not an expert on these type of events, so from there, as Seal says in the movie, “it gets crazy from here”.
I’ll get back to the plot in a minute, but we’ll start with some stuff in the movie that worked, and I guess we can start with top-billed actor Tom Cruise. Seeing as Cruise is nearly ten years older than Barry Seal was by the events of the end of the film, the age factor might have been a huge issue, but really I thought Cruise brought a lot of flair to Seal and made him a lived-in character, and I honestly don’t see anyone else playing him, and Cruise’s performance is a good one. Also good are Gleeson, who’s always good, and Sarah Wright as the ever-suffering wife of Barry who is constantly having to deal with all of Seal’s cash overflow. Really what’s got to be loved here above all else is the entertainment value. Cruise is a movie star and the movie isn’t ashamed to put him in literally just about every scene, and he makes the story, which gets a bit too much at times, one that you want to keep watching, even if you’re not 100% there. Also a nice script by Gary Spinelli helps wash all the content down, and Liman directs the film well.
So with my big problem here, the movie and presumably the real-life Barry Seal have a lot going on, and at times it gets a little convoluted, and you end up asking yourself, “Ok, what is this again?” or “What was that exactly?”, so at times it’s a little hard to follow where we are and what everybody’s doing, but the film isn’t so much interested in giving you a history lesson as it is in giving you entertainment. So because there is a lot going on, there are times when it feels we’ve got a two minute scene that sums up like six months of activity, and despite the film only being an hour and fifty-five minutes, it felt way, way longer, more like I just binge-watched a three-part Netflix miniseries. It’s not a crippling factor that’ll keep you away from the theater, but it’s just a pacing issue where we’re moving a little too fast at times. Also we get a couple of scenes here and there with Cruise and his family, mostly confined to the first hour, but I left wanting more. I wanted to know Barry’s relation to his wife and kids better than the film showed us. Again we’re mainly here to watch Tom pilot planes, get covered in cocaine, and run, well, a little, and it’s not necessarily going for a genius character study, but I felt like we’d get more out of Barry if we had a better understanding of his personal relationships. Oh, and the ending of the film is very abrupt. I’ll leave it at that.
Yeah, I guess I can go back and say it’s just Cruise and co. wanting to give the audience a two hour joyride about a real person, and really if that’s all they wanted to make and they execute it well, I can’t complain too much. Yeah, it would have been helpful to give a better explanation as to what was happening at the time, but still, I left the theater very entertained. I can definitely say that Cruise fans who were disappointed in The Mummy can go into this one knowing it’s significantly better and that the film does give you all the goods with his typical fair. Also if you are interested in the subject matter, it’s not as in-depth as a documentary or anything, but you’ll still get a kick out of it. And finally, just about anybody who enjoys those dramatic films that aren’t afraid to let the comedy loose, you’ll probably enjoy it too. I know I did.
My rating: 8/10.