If you’re experiencing the doldrums, and you want an easy “pick-me-up,” take off an afternoon or evening and see “American Made: Based on a True Lie.” This hard-hitting, well-made film showcases the inimitable Tom Cruise at his very best.

Cruise channels his signature cockiness into the ego of main character Barry Seal, a man who lived his life on his own terms while taking advantage of almost every government entity with initials: CIA, DEA, and FBI just to name a few.

Director Doug Liman, known for his work on the Bourne Identity franchaise, brings to the film an innovative, yet simple, stop-frame technique with a running voice-over by Seal (Tom Cruise). The action unfolds as a flashback as Seal creates a homemade video archive of his mad adventures that have taken him all over the world, including to remote jungles where normal people fear to tread.

As episodes and Seal’s story evolve, freeze-frame stills cut into the action’s flow for special emphasis. Liman’s flair to juxtapose the frames against the voice-overs creates a journalistic rendering of the events while providing color and zip to Seal’s exposé.

Nothing about Seal is normal. It’s 1978, and Barry Seal has become bored with his life as a TWA pilot. To spice things up a little, Seal runs a smooth little operation smuggling Cuban cigars. Unbeknownst to Seal, the CIA has been watching him, but not for his dabbling in the cigar trade.

Operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) sees potential in Seal’s energy and verve. They strike a deal, and the next thing you know, Seal is flying a high-powered government surveillance plane and taking pictures of Central American rebel outposts.

As Seal’s bank account increases, he protects his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and their children as much as possible, but when things heat up, Seal moves them in the middle of the night for their safety. Their new location is Mena, Louisiana, a dreary little town in the middle of nowhere. The location proves to be the perfect cover for CIA covert operations.

Never one to turn away from the main chance, Seal sees potential everywhere. His CIA work takes a dramatic turn when, along with the surveillance pictures, he adds work for the Medellin Drug Cartel and comes to count Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) among friends.

As his involvement with clandestine government and drug operations deepens, the drama escalates. You can’t help but like Seal and sympathize with him, in spite of his fraternizing with the bad guys from time to time. Seal has his secrets, but so does the American government.

Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.

Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews since 1999.