‘American Made’ turns Seal story into “madcap ’80’s romp”


A new movie coming out in four weeks attempts to pull off a feat no other biopic from a major Hollywood studio ever has…


Called “American Made” and starring Tom Cruise as drug smuggler Barry Seal, the upcoming release has airbrushed out the very things that made its main character famous to begin with.

Does Barry Seal’s life look like a madcap romp to you?   ‘Barry & ‘the boys‘ chap 38: ‘The Killing of Barry Seal’ (pdf)   Or listen to the author read the chapter.


“We’re a fun movie.” 

“American Made” assiduously ignores the fact that the dramatic saga of Barry Seal has been the stuff of numerous bestsellers,  like ‘Partners in Power’ by Sally Denton and National Book Award winner Dr. Roger Morris, who was a former member of the National Security Council; ‘The Secret Life of Bill Clinton’ by British journalist Ambrose Evans Pritchard, ‘Compromised’ by Terry Reed and John Cummings, and even my own  “Barry & ‘the boys’ .

Considered alongside the contemporaneous  “Dark Alliance” series by courageous San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb,  Barry Seal’s story indicated that the Reagan Administration—whose more famous slogan was Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No— had allowed tons of cocaine to be sold to Americans.  Even though the Congress of the United States of America had already voted to keep the Reagan Administration from funding a war in Central America, the drug money was used, ostensibly, to pay for  the Contra’s war with the Sandinista’s in Nicaragua.

For his pains, Webb, a true American hero, was run out of journalism, lost his home, his family, and eventually his life.

Liman, however,  doesn’t want his film to be seen as a political statement.

Barry Seal is like a conspiracy theorist magnet,” Liman told journalists around the world in a press package for the movie.  “Because it doesn’t matter which side of the spectrum you’re on, he touches everybody. Because he was working for the federal government, which is the Republicans and the Reagan’s and Bush’s. But he was doing it out of Arkansas, which is where Bill Clinton reigned, because he was governor.”

“But, you know, we’re a fun movie. So we left the politics – you know, we leave that to other people, and journalists.”

Through the simple expedient of pretending Barry Seal’s drug trafficking connection with the CIA didn’t exist, Cruise and director Doug Liman have concocted a weightless confection which adds absolutely nothing to serious inquiry.

It is a breathtakingly arrogant appropriation of American history.  And not by accident, either. By design.


Grisly execution viewed as ‘madcap romp”

The press release for “American Made” calls it a “true-life crime tale” based on the true story of Barry Seal, a drug dealer who worked for the CIA.”

Apparently nobody told director Doug Liman.

“Neither Tom nor I was interested in making a dry biography,” director Doug Liman explained during a press tour. “We chose the details we liked. Tom and I wanted to create our own version of Barry Seal.”

What does “Tom and Doug’s” ‘version’ of Barry Seal look like?

“The trailer for ‘American Made,’ “said the Hollywood Reporter, “suggests a madcap ’80s romp set against the backdrop of America’s “War on Drugs.”

A “madcap romp” is a curious take on Barry Seal’s frenetic and often sordid life and grisly execution, which saw him die in a hail of bullets fired at point blank range from a MAC-10 machine gun in Baton Rouge in February of 1986.

It was the most public assassination in America since the Kennedy’s.  “Assassination” is defined as “murder which changes the world.”

But “madcap” mean “amusingly eccentric,” so it looks like we’ve got a disconnect there.  Movies described as “madcap romps” often escalate into “zany hijinks,” or even full-blown shenanigans.  Sometimes  “hilarity ensues.” Sometimes not.

That’s fine if you’re making a movie like Mission Impossible, or about a fictional character, like Cheeky Kilo, or  Fat Pete, or Joey Cakes.

But there’s nothing particularly madcap about having your brains blown out by Colombian hit men.


“Interfaced” with Old George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George Junior

Seal was an important historical figure in the second half of the 20th century in America. He became famous for his prominent role in the CIA drug trafficking scandal that broke during the early years of Bill Clinton’s Presidency.

So there is an inescapably political element to Barry Seal’s story, which touches that of three U.S. Presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

But not for Doug Liman, who doesn’t want his film to be seen as a political statement.

“Barry Seal wasn’t really thinking about what he was flying, what was in the back of his airplane, so the movie doesn’t focus on that,” he states unconvincingly.  “It’s not really about the cocaine business.  It’s not really about the CIA and whether it was a smart war or a dumb war that they were getting Barry involved in.”

“It’s about, you know, being free. And for someone like Tom and myself, both of us have really aspired to a life filled with risk and adventure.”

“American Made” isn’t really about Barry Seal… it’s about Doug Liman and Tom Cruise.   The American people will have to wait a little longer for a serious treatment of the Barry Seal story.


“Heady accomplishment” means pallets stacked with money 

If you were alive in the 1980’s, and did a line of cocaine, chances were good it had been flown into the U.S. by “Barry & ‘the boys.’”

This was quite a heady accomplishment. Cocaine was a blizzard throughout the decade. Today’s baby boomer grandparents were like babies in a candy store. The word “hoover” re-entered the American lexicon with meanings having nothing do with vacuums.

Barry Seal was America’s most famous drug smuggler, because he solved two simple problems.

Problem one was taking off and landing on muddy landing strips in the steamy South American jungle.  Barry Seal solved it.

“Barry Seal  applied military logistics—JATO rockets, C-123 cargo planes, mil-spec Beechcraft twins—to the problem of importing cocaine from Colombia into the United States,” a Miami private investigator told us crisply.


“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

Problem two only becomes a problem if problem one has been solved. It’s how to land safely, and without unpleasantness from law enforcement, back in the United States.

Barry Seal had this covered too. He had worked for the CIA since the 1950’s.

Barry Seal wasn’t starring in a Jason Bourne movie. He was involved in something much bigger—and more important—than that.

Here’s the real skinny:  Barry Seal was the ‘whale’ that breached the surfaced while tourists on the whale-watching boat had their binoculars pointed in his direction.

No gold chains. No Spanish accents. No bandolier-strapped-across-bare-chests, no narcobanners….  Barry Seal was an American Drug Lord, in a country that isn’t supposed to have any.

Say, what’s up with that, anyway? The U.S. has Silicon Valley, more hedge fund guys than Obama-era dreamers… But no Drug Lords?

The Russian Mob is eating our lunch all over the planet. America apparently has a huge Drug Lord gap that neither major political party seems eager to address.  The irony is lost on Doug Liman.

“Barry Seal, he didn’t care what was in the back of his airplane,” Liman continues to explain earnestly.  “He just cared how heavy it was. If it absolutely had to be there overnight and it was illegal, Barry Seal was your guy.”

“He could get it in and out of the country. He could get it in and out of Colombia, or Panama. There’s no place he wouldn’t fly to. And so, you know, he always delivered. He was completely reliable, it’s a reason Escobar considered him his most trusted pilot. And the CIA considered him their most trusted pilot, because he always delivered. He just was, you know. He was playing both sides against each other and they didn’t even know it.”


Suspicion, oh eats my heart!

There are abundant reasons to be suspicious of the motives behind the making of “American Made.” Here are a few:

Instead of filming in Baton Rouge, and Mena, Arkansas, where much of Seal’s story took place, Doug Limon’s project became the first major studio American movie to ever shoot principal photography in Medellin, Colombia.

The decision cost the lives of two pilots associated with the picture, who died in a plane crash in fog over rugged mountains they were unfamiliar with.

What were they doing there in the first place?

The movie which “American Made” is most often being compared to is Martin Scorsese’s tone-deaf “Wolf of Wall Street,” which invited audiences along for the hilarious ride of a crew of wacky Mobbed-up stock-brokers who were emblematic of the banksters and grifters who destroyed the American middle class in 2007 and 2008.

So it is only fitting that the Hollywood film company behind the film has become embroiled in a massive corruption scandal linked to the Malaysian prime minister.

Money from a Malaysian investment fund was used to fund the movie and gambling trips to Las Vegas, claims the US Justice Department

More than $1billion was siphoned off from the fund, funneling the cash through a Swiss bank account of a shell company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R Caldwell told a news conference:

‘The associates of these corrupt used illicit proceeds from their fraud scheme to fund production of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a movie about a corrupt stockbroker who tried to hide his own illicit profits in a perceived foreign safe haven.  This is a case where life imitated art.”

Did Doug Liman’s film company’s presence in Medellin affect the picture’s sources of funding? Is there anything irregular about the money behind ‘American Made?’ 


Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

8 Responses

  1. Wrkg says:

    You didn’t mention Doug Liman’s pedigree. Liman’s father was Arthur Liman, chief counsel for the U.S. Senate’s investigation of Iran-Contra.


    Arthur Liman also famously had a public row with Oliver Stone over JFK, which Arthur Liman said took “too many liberties” with Oswald.

    I disagree with Mr. Hopsicker, however, that Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street” is tone deaf. The film asks the audience to identify with a criminal who ultimately punches his wife in the stomach, intentionally losing audience respect, then shows a public investigator riding the subway home alone as a moral counterpoint, and ends with a scene of an auditorium being asked to “sell a pen” — you, the audience, are watching an audience, and being asked to look in the mirror. More sophisticated than merely a romp.

    I don’t anticipate the same level of filmmaking from Doug Liman.

  2. Stan says:

    It’s just a movie Dude. Relax.

  3. Gary Bense says:

    I hope you’ve got the printer warmed up, Dan.

  4. Mark in Atlanta says:

    if the point was to cover up then why even make the movie? with the internet who barry seal really is can be studied as Tom Cruise brings attention and all people have to do is google and be led right here

  5. mb says:

    There’s clearly no agenda to ‘cover-up’. The agenda is to make a profitable movie(appears to be failing on the global market) and mislead/misinform about the subject. One of my favorite quotes that Daniel throws around is: ‘It doesn’t matter what the answers are if you ask the wrong questions’ or something like that. Hopsicker is one of the few authorities on the subject of Seal. I imagine he’ll produce a scathing critique of the factual authenticity of the movie once its released. End rant.

  6. mb says:

    Also, Thanks Daniel for all the work that you do. It benefits the community and the community appreciates your contributions.

  7. Lee Anderson says:

    I suggest that Mr. Hopsicker complete his review of this movie and contact the two Jays over at Gaia and coordinate a review. These two are doing pretty good reviews of Hollywood behind the scene movies, what they really mean, what’s really going on, hidden messages, etc. I watched their discussion of the Matrix and Terminator series with great interest.

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