Tom Cruise – Villain Or hero?

When people think of Tom Cruise what do they see? That shit eating grin, the Scientology, star power? I prefer to think of Cruise as a character actor trapped in a superstar’s body. Once he went stratospheric with Top Gun, he began to seek out more interesting parts, and get the attention of some great directors.

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Okay, maybe eight examples why will change your opinion of him, from sofa jumper (which never happened the way the internet would have had you believe) to game bringer. In no particular order:

1. Born On The Fourth Of July (1989)

How Driving Miss Daisy beat this for best picture Oscar is a joke. Cruise was up against stiff competition in his field but easily deserved his Golden Globe. His Ron Kovics transforms naturally from fresh faced school athlete, then idealistic recruit, to bitter resentful, paralyzed veteran. His struggle with his disability, relationships and awakening anti-war fervour are gripping to watch. He was unlucky Daniel Day-lewis was playing disabled writer Christy Brown in the same year.

Cruise convincingly ages and realistically portrays Kovics as paralysed from mid-waist, railing against his plight and cruel neglect by the veterans hospital system. I could imagine a young Dustin Hoffman going through the same transformation.

2. Rain Man (1988)

Everyone remembers Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar winning portrayal of Raymond “Rain Man” Babbitt, the autistic brother of Cruise’s Charlie. Charlie discovers Raymond’s existence in a mental hospital and takes him on a road trip, learning a few life lessons along the way. But no Oscar nod for Cruise? For shame. It takes a true talent to chart the journey from resentment and frustration to awakening brotherly love. Vincent Canby of the New York Times agreed, and considered “the film’s true central character” to be “the confused, economically and emotionally desperate Charlie, beautifully played by Mr Cruise”.

One even overlooks the considerable age gap between the two actors, such is Cruise’s convincing portrayal. Whilst Hoffman is to be admired, we invest in Cruise’s journey as he learns to open up, to give of himself. That’s acting, not grandstanding.

3. Collateral (2004)

Again, another actor, Jaimee Fox, was nominated for work alongside an outstanding Cruise performance. Cruise plays Vincent, a stone cold contract killer who ropes Max (Fox) a cabbie into driving him around to his targets during one night in L.A. Cruise, in his steel grey hair and stubble and grey suit is a lone wolf, at one point making eye contact with a coyote crossing the street, each sensing a kindred spirit.

He’s not without a warped sense of humour, rationalising his line of work with a little speech about Western hand wringing over genocide in Rwanda, yet notes that Max didn’t sign up for “Greenpeace, whatever“. When things go wrong in a busy club during a hit and Vincent starts to see control slip away we see worry briefly flash across his face. Then he throws Max a quick look that says it all in a second – “look what you’ve got me into now“. I mean it as a compliment when I say that I could see Lee Marvin in the same role. Roger Ebert called it “a rare thriller that is as much character study as sound and fury.”

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4. The Last Samurai (2003)

Cruise portrays Captain Nathan Algren, a washed up Union Army veteran haunted by atrocities he took part in during the Indian Wars. He gets a second chance, to train a new Japanese army to fight against troublesome Samurai who are resistant to change. Captured By Ken Watanabe’s warrior, he is instructed in the ways of the Samurai and grows to admire and fight alongside them, falling in love with the widow of the samurai he killed. Again, Roger Ebert gave praise, calling it “intelligently written, acted with conviction, it’s an uncommonly thoughtful epic“.

Ken Watanabe was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, but Cruise delivers another excellent performance, especially in his halting romance with the widow Taka, and his interplay with her young sons, some of which is conducted in broken Japanese.

5. Valkryie (2008)

Cruise was partly drawn to role of Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg, one of the failed July bomb plotters against Hitler, because of his resemblance to his photographs. The film had a troubled production and Cruise, by now being ridiculed for his behaviour on Oprah Winfrey’s show, unfairly drew flak for the decision to shoot the film in english. But seriously, who was going to watch a largely english / yank cast brutalize the German language for over two hours? Plenty of critics overlooked the fact that Conspiracy, an HBO drama about the Wannsee ”final solution” conference was also in english and garnered awards. Valkryie compromised by a Cruise voiceover at the beginning in German as he writes his journal, morphing into English.

Cruise again played disabled, wearing an eye patch and mostly having to use one hand, Stauffenberg having lost most of the fingers on one hand. He was modestly praised, but rather than fault Cruise, blame for the lukewarm reviews lies in the compressing of events and too many characters to keep track of. Quite frankly, without Cruise’s star wattage at even half glow, this would have been a mere curiosity, instead of the tense thriller it is.

6. Minority Report (2002)

Cruise plays PreCrime Police Officer John Anderton who is haunted by his failure to prevent his young son from being abducted before the PreCrime programme came into effect.

The scene where a framed Anderton confronts the patsy Crow in a hotel room full of photographs of children is gripping. As he finds his son’s picture he breaks down, pulling a gun on Crow. The PreCrime watch ticks down and we don’t know if he’ll pull the trigger or not. Another scene flashing back to the actual abduction at an outdoor pool is brilliant, as Cruise goes from happy proud parent to puzzlement then outright panic as he realises his son has just vanished.

7. Magnolia (1999)
Magnolia interweaves nine seperate but connected stories through one day in the San Fernando Valley, California. Cruise plays Frank T.J Mackay, a self-help guru for men to “tame ” women. His foul-mouthed misogynistic lectures certainly stand out in a large cast. He had just finished a long difficult shoot on Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut as a repressed doctor, and saw an opportunity to kick down any inhibitions and just portray someone who says what he wants.
Critics picked his performance out as well. Entertainment weekly said “It’s with Cruise… a slick televangelist of penis power, that the filmmaker scores his biggest success…like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, this cautiously packaged movie star is liberated by risky business“. Kenneth Turan of L.A times said Cruise was “All the more enjoyable because the self-parody aspect is unexpected“.
Cruise doesn’t just rant though, he sees his father Jason Robards on his death bed. Despite coming to berate him for their difficult relationship and his poor treatment of Cruise’s mother, he breaks down in the face of impending mortality, regretting the lost years.

Cruise won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor and was nominated for an Academy award in the same category.

8. Tropic Thunder (2008)

You want self-parody? It doesn’t get broader than Cruise as Les Grossman, the foul mouthed and hot-tempered studio head producing the film within the film, about a bunch of actors making a movie adaptation of a fake vietnam war memoir.

Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise worked together on the character, from persona to appearance, and kept it a secret as long as possible. When I first saw him appear, it took a few seconds to realise it was Cruise. With his bald head, big glasses and bigger hands, and hairy barrel chested fat body, Cruise is virtually unrecognisable. If only he could have done a different voice!

Cruise is hilarious in a film of stand out funny scenes, being hailed by Sara Vilkomerson of the New York Observer as giving “an astonishingly funny and surprising performance“.

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After the fun he had cutting loose and dancing as Les Grossman, Cruise has unleashed his inner rock god to portray fictional seedy rock legend Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages, due out June 15, complete with shambling drunken partying gait and tattoos.

So there you have it. To me, Cruise is more than the intense, action jackson, must run in every film he’s in, hero. He’s an actor who’s not afraid to stretch himself, to play unsympathetic characters, to loosen up and send himself up. Tom Cruise, I salute you! Playa…

Originally posted 2012-04-16 14:34:47. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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