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Cruise Control – Thoughts on Tom Cruise

I am going to just come out and say this. I like Tom Cruise as an actor. I think he’s hugely talented and vastly underrated. I think he suffers from a subset of the Sean Penn Syndrome that affects Christian Bale – his wacky personal life tends to overshadow his on-screen roles, which is a damn shame, given the talent that’s been hinted at repeatedly throughout his career.

A pleasant cruise...

A pleasant cruise...

What’s bringing all this to the fore is the fact that last week was “Tom Cruise Week” on Sky Movies Modern Greats and, while it contained a huge amount of dross featuring the actor (Mission: Impossible II, Days of Thunder), it also highlighted his underrated flexibility as a performer.

It’s interesting to note that Cruise himself has been something of a lightening rod for performance Oscars when it comes to two-handers. His work with Dustin Hoffman on Rain Man landed Hoffman a much-deserved Oscar in a still iconic performance, Cuba Gooding Jnr. won an Oscar for supporting the Cruisester in Jerry Maguire and his cold-as-ice hitman in Collateral helped secure Jamie Foxx a second successive Oscar nomination – though it’s a bit much to attribute Robert Downey Jnr.’s nomination in Tropic Thunder to the Cruise factor, more the “They haven’t released The Soloist but we want to recognise Robert Downey Jnr., but not for Iron Man” factor.

Cruise himself has been nominated three times for an Oscar, but has gone home empty handed. I will concede that I have a certain envy for Cruise’s ability to mix heavier material with lighter blockbuster fare, and I think he has it in him to pull a Tom-Hanks-style transition to a really award-winningly credible dramatic actor. Even looking over the really terrible films in his career – like Far and Away or Top Gun (if you discount the cheesy appeal of it) – are somewhat comparable to Hanks’ missteps at that stag of his own career (The Burbs and Dragnet come to mind).

The problem is that Cruise seems to let his own personal life come to the fore too often to completely disappear into everything he does. I don’t like to make personal judgements on actors or celebrities – it’s a very irresponsible and ‘tabloid’ thing to do – but his personal life has dominated coverage of the mega-star for years. Some of it is flattering – his devotion to his fans is heartwarming – some of it is ridiculous – couch jumping, anyone? – and some of it is scary – his Scientology induction message, for example. That’s ignoring all the rumours that pop up about Cruise being insecure about his height or being difficult to work with – these stories pop up around every celebrity, but they tend to stick to Cruise.

It doesn’t help that his attempts to demonstrate his good sense of humour by playing fat and balding (and sociopathic) producer Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder was somewhat overshadowed by his loud reaction when photos were leaked. He was right to be upset that one of the movie’s best gags had been spoilt, but he overreacted. And it seems odd that he had no objection to Sky Movies advertising the film as part of its “Tom Cruise Week” with footage of him in character (but no dialogue given the fact that the advertisement would be airing before the watershed).

Still, despite all that, Cruise is an actor of tremendous talent – even if very few people see it. I remember scoffing at the notion that action hero Tom Cruise would play a cold-blooded hitman – yet he provided the film’s best performance and the fact he didn’t receive a nomination for it seems a travesty. Even retrospectively his performance as a spoilt rich kid in Rain Man tends to get overlook in favour of Hoffman’s stunning character study, but on watching it again I realised how well Cruise brought the character to life, and how real he made the transition seem – going from jerk to loving brother might have seemed a tad cliché or trite, but Cruise sells us on it. And his Les Grossman is a solid unrestrained piece of supporting magic which equally gets shadowed by Robert Downey Jnr.’s role in a better-written part.

Whatever about his personal life, Cruise remains an immensely talented performer.

4 Responses

  1. well said.. has the taste of bitter truth…

  2. Darren, I’m just going to say this: I have to agree with you. In the past few years I’m certain people have let Tom Cruise’s crazy and overtly obnoxious behavior color their opinion of him as an actor, and this should not be. An actor doesn’t have to be a lovely and delightful person you’d have over for tea to be a good actor — I mean, just look at Sean Penn.

    There is a lot of evidence to support your argument for Cruise’s talent: “A Few Good Men,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Collateral,” “Rain Man” (people always talk about Hoffman’s performance, but Cruise was just as good), “Magnolia,” his totally shocking (but flippin’ awesome) cameo in “Tropic Thunder.” All in all, a very good actor who might possibly be staging a successful comeback.

  3. love this post…

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