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A 2017 film directed by Doug Liman based on the life of Barry Seal (played by Tom Cruise), a former TWA pilot who became a drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel in the 1980s. Seal eventually became an informant for the DEA to avoid jail time.


Tropes

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Compare the real Barry Seal to the version played by Tom Cruise.
  • Asshole Victim: JB thanks Barry for getting him out of jail and giving him the means to escape the country and a sack full of cash, by immediately blackmailing him for more money and crudely insulting Barry's wife (his own sister). So we're not that broken up when his car explodes a few seconds later, courtesy of the Medellin Cartel.
  • The Cartel: The Medellín Cartel, who Barry works for flying cocaine into America. He also helps provide them with weapons.
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  • The Cold War: The United States funds the Contras and delivers guns to them in order to topple the socialist government that had toppled the dictator Anastasio Somoza.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The story takes place during the height of the Reagan-era Drugs Are Bad campaign.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Jorge Ochoa's idea of a gag is to order a bunch of jumpy, aggressive, heavily-armed Nicaraguan militia to execute Barry and his friend, only stopping them a millisecond before they pull the trigger. He thinks it's hilarious; said friend pisses himself.
  • Gray and Gray Morality: Barry Vs the U.S. government, in which neither side is really portrayed as in the right. The story covers part of the events of the Iran-Contra Affair, so naturally some questionable behavior is taking place on both sides.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The film is based on a conspiracy theory that Seal worked for the CIA while smuggling drugs for The Cartel, and indeed that the Agency even pushed him into doing this. While Seal claimed to have done errands for the CIA and other government offices in the 1950s- such as running guns into Cuba- he never said that his later drug operations had anything to do with them and in fact his drug smuggling began about 5 years earlier than the film made out, nor did he ever claim they hired him to do photography work. The character of Schafer is totally fictional and while it is possible that Seal worked for them and they covered it up (which is what the film runs with), it's even more likely that they had nothing to do with him as they had plenty of resources of their own without having to rely on a criminal mercenary. If he WAS recruited, it didn't play out in the way the film shows, as Seal was specifically fired for smuggling plastic explosives; he did not quit because the Agency made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
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  • Logo Joke: The 2012 Universal logo plays normally, but midway through the music slows down, and it cuts to the 1963 logo with a Comcast byline, while the music is replaced by "A Fifth of Beethoven".
  • Loveable Rogue: Barry is largely portrayed this way being a fun and charming family man who is generous and loved by his community — who makes his profit smuggling cocaine into the USA.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: When "Shaffer" burns Barry, Barry gets raided by the DEA, ATF, State Police, and the FBI at the same time. Naturally, they all wonder why the other agencies are there.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Barry decides to throw his lot in with the cartels when the CIA refuses to either boost his pay for the very dangerous surveillance work he does for them or to supply him with benefits comparable to those he received at his former job.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Barry never goes out of his way to become a drug smuggler, or an informant, but he says yes to pretty much every opportunity that comes his way.
    Barry: I tend to leap before I look. ... Maybe I should have asked a few more questions.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Played with. Although Barry gets increasingly deeply involved in the drug and weapons trade with the cartel, his morality never changes much — he was always willing to smuggle illegal cargo (near the beginning of the movie he is caught smuggling cigars), he just didn't have a large-scale opportunity before.
  • Reality Ensues: After it's revealed to the whole world Barry photographed basically the entire leadership of the Medellin Cartel loading cocaine onto a plane, he's a dead man walking. That said, he pretty much knows this, and is making sure his family is financially secure and his story is recorded, because he knows it's just a matter of time before he's found and killed.
  • Red Scare: The fear of communists is the major driving force of the U.S. government's involvement in Central America, as well as the reason they are willing to negotiate with Barry despite him smuggling millions of dollars worth of cocaine into America.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: While his skills as a pilot are beyond dispute, Barry doesn't seem to understand that he's really just an expendable pawn in the schemes and agendas of organization with far, far more resources and fewer morals than him. Most egregious is when he brags to the camera about "building" the Medellin Cartel. He didn't. The Cartel was already there, and contracted him to work for them, because he was a profitable convenience of skills and geography.
    • Barry was also one of many crooked American pilots working for them. He just happened to also be working for the CIA at the same time.
  • The Spook: Fittingly, the CIA officer who recruits and handles Barry does not to reveal anything about himself. Including his name, of course.
    "Who the fuck is 'Schafer'?"
  • Too Dumb to Live: While only the pilots died, the Cartel as a whole had no idea what they were doing trying to fly their product out of their airstrip. The airstrip itself was too short with trees and mountains on both sides. The pilots overloaded their planes because no one understood weight limits. Even after Barry explained everything to them and was about to take off, they told probably the fattest member of the Cartel to go with Barry to babysit the product.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Plays fast and loose with the true story of Barry Seal, although it follows most of the major events that happened in real life.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Barry is pleased when he hears the news that communists are invading Colombia, since this means more business for him. The Contras are also portrayed this way, being more concerned with making money out of drug traffic than actually toppling the Sandinista government.
  • Worth It: With his family set to benefit from a massive life insurance policy from his inevitable death at the hands of the cartel, Barry's last tape has him exclaim that his spate of misadventures made for exhilarating and wonderful experiences that he wouldn't take back for anything.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: As reviews have noted, a key aspect of the film is that Barry believes he's the typical Tom Cruise character of a cool guy handling things well and having a grand adventure while outwitting others. Barry is completely unaware that he's nothing more than a cog in the entire CIA-drug cartel wheel and that if it goes bad (which it does), he'll be the fall guy. Even after that, he still thinks he can play both sides to get a deal and go free, not grasping how he's completely in over his head which ends up costing his life.

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