May 31, 2015

Tradecraft: Doug Liman and Tom Cruise Plot CIA Drug Flight

Doug Liman loves directing spy movies. Tom Cruise loves starring in spy movies. Doug Liman directed Tom Cruise in last year's surprisingly excellent sci-fi war movie Edge of Tomorrow. Was it inevitable that the director and star would re-team to work in the genre they both seem to love? Perhaps. Deadline reports that Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Fair Game) will direct Cruise (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Knight and Day) in Mena, which follows what the trade describes as the "outrageous exploits of Barry Seal, a hustler and pilot unexpectedly recruited by the CIA to run one of the biggest covert operations in U.S. history." In the early 1980s, Seal flew drug smuggling runs out of the Mena, Arkansas airport, allegedly in part at the behest of the CIA. With Agency surveillance equipment, he photographed members of the infamous Medellin Cartel loading drug shipments onto his plane in Nicaragua, supposedly with the cooperation of the Sandinista government. The Reagan administration used one of his photographs to bolster support for rebel guerrillas known as the Contras, who the CIA was funding in contravention of the U.S. Congress's Boland Amendment as part of an elaborate operation that became known as the Iran-Contra Scandal. Liman's father, Arthur Liman, was Chief Counsel in the Senate's investigation of the Iran-Contra Scandal and conducted the televised hearings that fascinated the nation in the summer of 1987 and made household names out of people like Oliver North and William Casey. (I still remember that summer as one interminably boring evenings for a 9-year-old, when the TV aired night after night of old guys talking instead of baseball or Bond movies on ABC. Now, of course, I find the subject fascinating.) Liman has previously cited his father's involvement as giving him his fascination with spies and espionage, so no doubt this is a story he's itching to tell.

"I love stories of improbable heroes working against the system," Liman told the trade, "and Barry Seal took the government, and our country, for an unbelievable ride. Interpreting his story has the makings for an entertaining film that is equal parts satire, suspense and comedy—and always surprising." Mena will be at least the third movie in production this year to tell an aspect of the Iran-Contra Affair. We learned about two more last fall.

Universal has staked out a January 6, 2017 release date for Mena, evidently encouraged by the huge box office that particular berth garnered for another true story boasting a big star, American Sniper. Besides Cruise, the film stars Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, About Time), Sarah Wright (Parks and Rec), Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights, The Missionary) , Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class), Jayma Mays (Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of CONTROL), Benito Martinez (The Shield, 24), E. Roger Mitchell (Kill the Messenger), Lola Kirke (Free the Nipple) and Alejandro Edda (The Bridge), with Robert Farrior (Stop-Loss) as Oliver North.

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