A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Made is based on the true story of a CIA pilot (Tom Cruise) who doubled as a drug runner in the 1980s. Expect frequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," etc.) and a few sexual situations, plus brief nudity (a man moons his family, etc.). For a film about drugs, not much actual drug use is shown; characters do drink. And there's a non-graphic car bombing, but otherwise violence is more referred to and discussed than shown. Still, the tension and stress of the high-wire act the main character walks might be too intense for kids. But the main issue for parents may be whether a film this ironic is right for their family. It takes a bluntly, hilariously cynical view of 1980s American foreign policy and secret operations, as well as of the war on drugs itself.
What's the story?
Tom Cruise stars in AMERICAN MADE, a tense but funny, ironic look at the war on drugs and American covert operations in Central America in the '80s. Cruise plays a version of real-life pilot/convicted smuggler Barry Seal, who -- per the events portrayed in this film -- gathered intelligence and ran guns (and eventually drugs) for the Reagan-era government. Though each escalation seems more dangerous and insane, the inveterate thrill-seeker and risk-taker can't seem to help himself.
Is it any good?
Thankfully a comedy rather than a documentary, this is a gonzo, ironic barrel roll through the war on drugs and U.S. covert ops in Central America in the '80s. American Made gleefully distorts the facts to entertain, and it succeeds, managing a rare balance of tension and humor. Cruise and director Doug Liman reunite after their pairing for the hit Edge of Tomorrow; considering the quality of both films, it's good news that they intend to work together again. Here, Cruise plays a kind of funhouse version of pilot, convicted smuggler, and eventual DEA informant Barry "Fat Man" Seal (not so fat in this film). Seal is portrayed as an inveterate thrill-seeker who cheerfully gets in deep with both the CIA and the Medellín Cartel. The money to be made is unfathomable. The license to steal proves addictive. The dangers, the morality, the law -- all are pushed aside with Machiavellian delight. Domhnall Gleeson plays Seal's CIA handler and Sarah Wright co-stars as Seal's wife.
American Made is cynical in the best way. It's like a drunken rollercoaster ride at the rickety amusement park that was 1980s U.S. foreign policy; it's appropriately absurd. Although doing even just a little research confirms that the filmmakers played fast and loose with the facts, that's not important. What is important is that it all feels insane enough to be true. As always, Liman moves the story along briskly and compellingly. The flying sequences are thrilling. The script is loaded with little tricks and laughs. The leads are good, but the secondary casting is great: Caleb Landry Jones is deliciously disgusting as a relative bound for trouble. As top Medellín figures Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar, respectively, Alejandro Edda and Mauricio Mejía mix easygoing humanity with real menace. (Mejía, by the way, has played Escobar three other times, so he seems to have it down.) Movies about this period and subject tend to be pretty dark, for good reason. But not this one. So don't take American Made as a historical document -- enjoy it as a fun commentary on an otherwise unfunny chapter in recent history.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how American Made builds tension without having much in the way of violence -- and while still being funny. Do movies have to be violent in order to keep you on the edge of your seat?
It clearly didn't bother Barry to do illegal, immoral things. Did you root for him anyway? Would you root for someone who did those things in real life? Why is it different to watch someone like that in a movie as opposed to in real life?
It's not likely we'll ever know which parts, if any, of this story are completely true. But we do know the filmmakers changed some story elements from documented facts. Why do you think they'd make that choice? What do you think really happened? How could you find out more?
Had you ever heard of the Iran-Contra affair? Do you have an opinion about it or the United States' involvement?
For kids who love spy movies
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.