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In the making of the new true-life drama American Made, director Doug Liman was equipped with a shockingly close relationship with the story that the film is based on. While most filmmakers simply read books, watch documentaries or do interviews about the subject matter of their work, Liman actually grew up the son of Arthur L. Liman -- who was the chief counsel for the Senate investigation of the Iran-Contra affair and looked closely into the involvement of one Barry Seal (played by Tom Cruise in the new movie). This close connection to history sparked an extra passion in the director adapting the story, and it actually resulted in a notable conflict between himself and screenwriter Gary Spinelli. Liman recently told me,
There were things in the original script that contradicted my father's work. I had kind of surreal experience, unlike anything in my career. The screenwriter had in the original script some allegations about the CIA's actions that I checked with my father's deputies, and they said my father had actually looked into those allegations and they weren't true. They weren't in my father's reporting anywhere because my father actually found them to be so unsubstantiated that he didn't even want to bring them up to disavow them and give them that kind of credibility. And the deputy said, 'Well, if you have new information, because this investigation was 1987. If there's some deathbed confession that we didn't have access to, that could change things.' The screenwriter just read some recording that had been disproven, the very recording that my father had looked into.
I spoke with Doug Liman over the phone earlier this month to talk about the creation of American Made, and learned about his father's very close involvement with the subject matter in the midst of our conversation. Impressed and curious how this ultimately had an influence on the way the story was told, I asked how this inside knowledge wound up changing and influencing the script. Liman told me about the specific incident above, and continued explaining how it led to a serious back and forth between himself and the screenwriter:
I said we have to take it out of the script. And the screenwriter was arguing back, and I was like, 'This is almost Shakespearean! You're asking me to put something in a movie that goes against my dead father's work.' You're never going to win that fight!
Of course, there are parts of American Made that don't fully sync up with reality -- but the truth of the matter is that the entire thing is pretty much a Stranger Than Fiction tale anyway. In the late 1970s, small time smuggler and TWA airline pilot Barry Seal was approached by a member of the CIA and recruited to help them take surveillance photos with a spy plane in Central America. A true opportunist, Seal wound up using this deal to manufacture a side gig with the notorious Medellin Cartel in Colombia to illegally transport literal tons of cocaine... but still found his role within CIA operations increase and his status protected. It comes together as one of Doug Liman's slickest movies, and certainly a crazy big screen adventure.