The film picks up in the late 1970’s when Pilot Seal (Tom Crusie) is suddenly recruited by mysterious Monty Schafer (another solid turn from Domhnall Gleeson) to be an undercover agent for the CIA. Seal thinks he’s struck lucky but things become rather complicated when he then lands work from a group of drug criminals called the ‘Medelin Cartel’ – led by none other than the infamous Pablo Escobar himself – and is asked to smuggle substances from the likes of Panama and Columbia back into the USA on his return flight. Before long the money comes flooding in (to the point where they run out of room and Seal as to dig holes in the garden!) and the jobs become more regular ad much more complex.
The story moves very quickly and does feel erratic at times but despite this I found myself getting sucked into the action and found it all quite educating and interesting. Liman has deliberately used a grainy camera print here which really projects you into the 1970’s/1980’s atmosphere and makes it feel all that more gritty and realistic. The quirky use of animated maps storyboards and fast-paced editing pays off and again, really adds to the creation of chaos at this time in Barry Seal’s life. The soundtrack is catchy and – as expected – incorporates the best of the 1970’s and 80’s. As highlighted above, Cruise is out of his comfort zone here and it has worked wonders. He gives a much more understated, withdrawn performance as Barry Seal and proves that he is multi-layered as an actor and can turn his hand to pretty much anything.
Domhnall Gleeson - who seems to be everywhere at the moment, playing roles in both Mother! And the upcoming Goodbye Christopher Robin – is charismatic and quite comical as Schafer. Essentially Seal’s boss, he gets to show off his strong, authoritarian side, barking orders at Seal from the initial undercover CIA reporting to eventually selling guns to the Contras. Gleeson – like his father – is just as effective in a supporting role as he is as the protagonist and as this film shows, he is capable of stealing the scene in either of those instances. Liman’s account of this segment of Seal’s life is thrilling, engaging and entertaining. It depicts an entertaining story of a man who certainly led an exciting lifestyle when he was recruited by the CIA, the drug cartels and eventually the American government. Just like the film, it was anything but boring!