American Made

B +

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence including guns, explosions, plane crash, murders, corruption
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 29, 2017

Copyright 2017 Universal
Director Doug Liman is not just the man behind stylish, politically savvy, exceptionally well-constructed action films like four “Bourne” films, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and the under-appreciated “Edge of Tomorrow.” He is also the son of the late Arthur Liman, the legendary Washington lawyer who was chief counsel for the United States Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, better known as Iran-Contra. His new film, “American Made,” is stylish, politically savvy, exceptionally well-constructed, and a smarter, more compelling take than the media on the real-life events his father helped uncover.

And he could not have chosen better than his “Edge of Tomorrow” star Tom Cruise, back from the dreary “Mummy,” and doing what he does best as the charming bad boy with a gift for flying and a need for speed, Barry Seal.

Even as the youngest pilot in TWA history, Seal is bored taking planes full of passengers back and forth to Bakersfield and Vancouver. So when a red-headed man with a beard named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who seems to know everything about him shows up and asks if he’d like to do some flying for his country, and shows him the super-fast plane they’d let him fly, he accepts. “We’re building nations!” Schafer tells him. “All this is legal?” Seal asks for the first and last time. “If you’re doing it for the good guys,” Schafer tells him. “Just don’t get caught.” At first it is just reconnaissance, but then he starts some deliveries: cash in exchange for information. His contact is a Panamanian Colonel named Noriega. The CIA does not exactly mind. When Seal asks if a bag filled with cash in the hanger is his, Schafer smiles, “What bag?”

Word gets around about “the gringo who delivers,” and Seal is conscripted by three young, ambitious drug dealers to help them ship their product to the United States. One of them is named Pablo Escobar. Eventually, he is also delivering guns, as the CIA decides they should arm peasants to help them fight communists, though the peasants would rather sell the guns for money and, after Seal begins to bring them to the US for training in military operations, escape to live in America.

Like his antihero, Liman has great energy and panache, with a cheeky storytelling style that matches Seal, who can say (twice) “I tend to leap before I look” without an atom of ruefulness. “Do you trust me?” he asks his skeptical wife (Sarah Wright), with that Tom Cruise grin. “No!” she says, quite reasonably. So, she packs up in the middle of the night and moves with him when he tells her they have to go. He does not tell her it is because they are going to be arrested at dawn, but she gets the picture.

Seal is a cheerful rascal, but the movie shows us that he is more honest than the politicians and intelligence community. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan appear in archival footage, and Robert Farrior appears as Oliver North. Guns go back and forth from the Soviets to the PLO to the Israelis to the Contras to the drug cartel, and Seal gets paid, in cash, at almost every stop. Even after a family member is assassinated, “Godfather”-style, he “just keeps delivering that pizza.” And it is in no one’s interest to stop him. The community appreciates his business (the bank gives him his own vault), his job creation, and his generosity (there’s a Seal baseball field for the kids). Until it doesn’t work.

This is a smart, exciting, funny, and surprisingly sharp story, very much of its era, and very much of ours as well.

Parents should know that this film has extended peril and violence including guns, explosions, murders, plane crash, drugs and drug dealing, corruption, some strong language, reckless behavior, explicit sexual situations and nudity.

Family discussion: Who are the worst criminals in this story? Who, if anyone, is the hero?

If you like this, try: “Blow” and “Kill the Messenger”

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The Journey

B +

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent images and language
Profanity: Some strong and bigoted language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: References to and depictions of historical civil unrest, violence, and murder
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2017

First thing, I’m going to ask you to overlook two obvious problems with this film.  The first is the awful title, pretentious and overused.  The second is the film’s complete distortion of the real-life facts and details in favor of a condensed and heightened portrayal that puts decades of delicate negotiations into one car ride.  Let’s just agree to get past both of those for a moment and we will return to them later, I promise.

Here is the truth.  Two men who were the bitterest of enemies at the center of The Troubles, one of the worst, longest, and most intractable conflicts in modern history, found a way to create an enduring peace.  One was Ian Paisley (played by Timothy Spall), an evangelical Protestant minister.  The other was Martin McGuinness (played by Colm Meany)  a leader of the Catholics.  Although they despised each other, and blamed each other for the violent attacks that led to thousands of deaths, they were statesmen enough to realize that no one would ever win if they kept fighting each other.  In  2007, when the two men visited the White House to see President George W. Bush, McGuinness said, “Up until the 26 March this year, Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything — not even about the weather — and now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there’s been no angry words between us. … This shows we are set for a new course.”

This movie imagines what the first conversation between the two men might have been, placing them in a streamlined, highly artificial, and very heightened dramatic context to have it.  This is not a documentary.  It is not history.  It is intended to be seen by people who have very little notion of the story.  So, the good news is that it is very accessible.  The less good news is that it will confuse the audience into thinking that this is how it happened, so be warned.

But it is a touching, inspiring, beautifully performed and very timely story about finding common ground even under the most bitter partisan circumstances.  And it is a powerful reminder that at the end of the day policy and statecraft and clashing ideologies may give rise to briefing books filled with charts and footnotes, but at the end of the day sometimes it just comes down to two people who agree to acknowledge their common humanity. “These men are anarchy,” one of the government officials says. “They are The Troubles.” But he might just as well say, “They are the answer.”

Parents should know that the theme of this film includes decades of civil unrest and murder during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, some graphic and disturbing images and references to sad deaths, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What was the turning point on the journey and why did it make a difference?  Read up on the real relationship between Martin and Ian, which evolved over decades, not one car trip.

If you like this, try: “In the Name of the Father” and “Maeve”

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