When Tom Cruise blasts his dazzling smile at the camera and narrates American Made as Barry Seal, you believe everything he’s telling you, especially at the film’s already promised that everything is “based on a true story.” Most of what happens in American Made happened in real life, but for the sake of putting out a fun and accessible film, Universal Pictures neglected to include some of Barry’s more nefarious deeds.
Director Doug Liman himself has called the film “a fun lie based on a true story.” The real Seal perhaps never killed anyone in his life, but he delivered a lot of weapons and drugs that no doubt harmed a lot of people.
Seal’s cooperation and testimony were instrumental in eventually bringing down Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, but American Made shies away from the fact that the real-life Barry had seemingly no integrity or loyalty, often snitching to save his own skin and taking even harmful jobs for money.
The charming nature of Cruise’s acting lends itself towards making this total criminal out to be a “good guy,” misleading the viewer from the truth: The real-life Barry Seal did a lot of really bad things that the movie ignores for the sake of remaining fun and lighthearted.
American Made hits all the right plot beats to become the first bonafide “Tom Cruise movie” we’ve gotten in a long time, but it neglects to include any deeds that make Barry seem more villainous. We get a good guy compelled to do bad things for money instead of the truth: Barry Seal was selfish criminal that helped fuel one of the greatest drug empires the world has ever seen.
The final product does flies quite far from actual history. It’s so far from the truth that in October 2015, one of Barry Seal’s daughters filed a lawsuit against Universal Pictures specifically because the original script was riddled with factually incorrect details.
Here are four major differences between the real-life Barry Seal and the final version of American Made:
Agent Monty Schafer Never Existed
In American Made, Cruise’s Barry plays victim to Agent Monty Schafer’s (Domhnall Gleeson) machinations. Schafer takes advantage of Barry, compelling him to increasingly dangerous activities before abanding him altogether. At every plot beat, Schafer is there to bail Barry out of jail, to move him across the country, to give him more resources and a new job. His role in the movie is as convenient catalyst to give an otherwise unwieldy story shape.
Morty Schafer never existed in real life and was created purely as a plot convenience.
Barry Was Fired for Smuggling Much Worse Than Cigars
At the film’s start, Barry’s bored of his airline job and smuggles some cigars for a quick buck. It’s relatively innocent. Any of us might do it. What’s the big deal about a few cigars? The real Barry actually lost his job after being arrested for smuggling tons of plastic explosives to a group opposed to Fidel Castro. He was also later arrested for smuggling Quaaludes, and eventually moved from marijuana to eventually make it to cocaine.
Barry Seal Wasn’t Quite a “Family Man”
American Made also portrays Seal as something of a family man utterly devoted to beautiful wife and their three children. In reality, he married three times and had a total of five children between his three marriages.
Barry Barely Knew the Leaders of the Medellín Cartel
One of the film’s visual motifs shows Barry traveling up and down the Western hemisphere, often stopping to share some tequila with the leaders of the Medellín Cartel, Pablo Escobar included. In reality, Barry barely knew Escobar and the Ochoa brothers and only worked with them indirectly.
Tom Cruise’s Barry Seal shares the same ultimate fate as his real-life counterpart, who met his end after the press revealed his identity to the world. Assassins sent by the cartel murdered him in his car, a grisly fate that we never get to see fully in American Made, because it might stand to spoil all the fun Tom Cruise has.
American Made is out now in theaters.
If you liked this article, check out this video on when the CIA illegally drugged thousands of U.S. and Canadian citizens.