Is Monty Schafer Based on a Real CIA Agent?

Within the ‘American Made’ narrative, Doug Liman’s 2017 comedyaction movie delves into the unbelievably true story of Barry Seal, a drug smuggler turned DEA informant who played an instrumental role in the 1980s Iran-Contra Affair. Nevertheless, the film’s storyline, helmed by Tom Cruise as Barry Seal’s on-screen counterpart, remains unconfined by a biopic label and employs generous, creative liberty wherever necessary. As such, the film’s narrative maintains a streamlined storyline punctuated by thrilling twists and turns.

However, the half-fiction, half-true nature of ‘American Made’ also compels viewers to wonder about the actual real-life story that unfolded for Barry Seal. Domhnall Gleeson’s character Monty Schafer, a covert CIA operative, plays a significant role in the development of Barry’s career as a pilot for numerous legal and illegal organizations. Therefore, people are bound to wonder whether or not the agent has any roots in reality. Let’s find out!

Monty Schafer is Not Based on a Real Person

You guessed it wrong! Monty Schafer is not based on a real CIA Agent. The opportunistic government operative from ‘American Made’ who spends most of the film trying to further his career from behind a desk is a product of the filmmaker’s imagination. Schafer’s purpose within the narrative is tied to Barry’s development, offering him opportunities that set the pilot on the path toward a grander adventure.

As such, the film picks up right after Schafer’s involvement in Barry’s life after he scouts him from an airport bar in 1978 and recruits him to run reconnaissance missions for the CIA. However, in real life, Seal’s involvement with the CIA forms an already contested topic of discussion even without including all the implications that Schafer’s character poses through his partnership with Barry.

In the film, Barry quits his job at TWA after receiving Schafer’s offer to work with the CIA. Barry’s drastic career shift is depicted as a reckless decision made due to Barry’s search for a higher thrill, something that remains consistent for the character from then on. Yet, reality took a much different route for Seal, who didn’t willingly leave his job but was instead let go.

In 1972, Seal ran into trouble with the law and was arrested while attempting to move explosives out of the U.S. As a result, in 1974, the TWA fired him for falsifying a medical leave the day he was smuggling weapons. Consequently, Barry’s adventures with the CIA and subsequently Schafer, as showcased in ‘American Made,’ are fabricated from the beginning with little connection to reality.

One of the most prominent sources for the exploration of Seal’s working relationship with the CIA comes from the book ‘Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal,’ by Del Hahn. In his career within the FBI, Hahn worked on the task force targeting Seal before going on to write a book to dispel the conspiracies and rumors surrounding the smuggler-turned-informant. In his research, Hahn concluded that Seal’s sole confirmed connection with the CIA came in 1984 when the pilot worked for the DEA to collect incriminating evidence against the Sandinistas.

Furthermore, one of the conspiracies that Hahn questioned was the “CIA/Mena Myth.” Thus, one of Schafer’s prominent on-screen storylines that revolved around setting Barry up in Mena, Arkansas, remains another fictitious detail. With all of the above in mind, we can safely conclude that Monty Schafer remains a fictional character with fictional storylines created in service of the film’s narrative.

Nonetheless, Schafer occupies a fascinating space within the film and keeps the narrative alive and engrossing with his presence. While discussing the same with IGN, Domhnall Gleeson said, “He [Schafer] wants a proper office. He wants to get out of his cubicle. And that’s really what is driving him. And it’s a very selfish, very petty, very surprising desire for this CIA guy to have. And it’s just furthering him in his own career, at all costs. I thought that was really, really smart and gave the character a different kind of flavor.” Ultimately, though an interesting character, Monty Schafer remains fictional.

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