October 10, 2017 -- Tom Cruise stars in this crime adventure drama which is based more closely on conspiracy theories than on facts. Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot who goes to work for the CIA, DEA and drug cartels, smuggling guns, people and drugs back and forth between the U.S. and Central America. He makes tons of money, but is eventually betrayed by politicians in the White House.
Barry Seal is a real historical figure, but this film portrays a number of events surrounding his smuggling activities in ways that seem to deviate substantially from the facts. It makes for quite a fantastic yarn. In the movie version of events, Seal is recruited by the CIA to do aerial reconnaissance work in Central America. He then makes the acquaintance of the notorious Pablo Escobar and other drug lords, and begins smuggling drugs into the U.S.
Low level aerial reconnaissance is a high risk activity, as Seal's plane flies low, he is fired upon by soldiers on the ground. He decides he should get more money for risking his life so he decides to fly for both the government and for the Medellín Cartel. The CIA sets him up with his own airport and cover business at Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport in Arkansas. Pretty soon, Seal is raking in the money, earning up to half a million dollars per flight. He employs several other daring pilots on his payroll.
Those of you fond of conspiracy theories will no doubt have heard of Mena, Arkansas, and of certain theories about a number of illegal activities there involving the CIA, DEA and former President Bill Clinton. This also ties in to popular theories about the CIA being heavily involved in drug smuggling activities. This film leans heavily on such theories, popular on both the political left and right, but makes light of Seal's role as an important informant for the DEA.
While the facts differ quite a bit from the story in this movie, it is nevertheless a heck of yarn, with crash landings, desperate runs from police, threats from foreign drug lords and soldiers. There are even ties to the White House under the Reagan Administration and to Oliver North, best known for the Iran-Contra Affair, which is also mentioned in the movie.
If all this sounds complicated, it is, but the truth is even more complicated. This story is not only simplified, but it is also designed to make Seal seem like a hero. Seal may have been a kind of hero in real life, but probably not exactly the kind of hero shown in this film. This film rates a B.
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