Friday Face/Off: Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise. Not a man you can reasonably be neutral about, the diminutive action hero inspires extraordinary devotion from his fans but is mercilessly mocked by his detractors for… well, for all sorts. Read on through Laura and John’s cases for the defence and the prosecution, and see if you think he’s a cinematic god or a dreary twerp…

For the defence:

Tom Cruise

I am not defending Tom Cruise the scientologist, and I certainly am not excusing Tom Cruise the couch jumping, psychiatry bashing, Katie Holmes ‘loving’ loon. I am however, defending Tom Cruise the actor. You remember him, don’t you? The one that slid across the floor in Risky Business and carried on sliding straight into our hearts. The one that sang You’ve Lost that Loving Feelin’ to Kelly McGillis and made women everywhere realize they’d actually found that loving feelin’. The guy that combined looks, charm and actual talent into a ten million pound smile of movie star.

Of course the Cruiser hasn’t exactly made it easy for himself the past few years, voicing radical, and in any rational person’s opinion, crazy views about religion and the use of anti-depressants. However, if before his recent bouts of outlandish behaviour he hadn’t acted so impeccably, would we really be so angry? Robert Downey Jr. passed out in a stranger’s house; Sean Penn continues to alienate virtually everyone, and yet everyone focuses on Tom Cruise’s recent handful of bad behaviour that is relatively innocent by comparison. He is a star of the classical mode – one that has on the whole shunned discussion of his private life in favour of a genuine love of the craft and the viewing public. And let’s face it, despite his indiscretions, Tom Cruise is still that guy. No other actor spends as long on the red carpet as Cruise. Japan have even gone as far as giving Cruise his own day, acknowledging that no other actor has visited Japan as many times as him. He genuinely loves his public and loves what he does – and we are rarely disappointed. While Cruise’s recent outings in Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie and Knight and Day may have attracted criticism, one cannot deny Cruise’s genuine commitment to entertain people. At 48 he still feels an obligation to his viewing public, which is more than can be said for other Hollywood stars today.

But what of his acting ability? Granted, Cruise has a very definite persona, but what a persona! Who didn’t love the cocky upstart that he was in Risky Business, The Colour of Money and the Mission: Impossible series? He knows when he’s on to a good thing, and so does the viewing public. On top of this, he is also willing to subvert his star persona. His performance in Magnolia shows the darker side of the machismo he previously perpetuated, while his performances in Interview with the Vampire and Born on the Fourth of July show a willingness to strip away this persona altogether. How many other Hollywood stars are willing to take the same risks as Tom Cruise does with their choices of roles? How many actions stars have also played cripples and flamboyant undead raconteurs? Throughout Cruise’s career, he has made remarkably bold choices for someone who is labeled as a mainstream star, and this alone should be applauded.

But if this alone isn’t enough to convince you to forgive Tom Cruise for his social indiscretions, surely his generosity as a performer will. While he has held his own against stars such as Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman, he never monopolizes the screen, allowing his co-stars to shine in their roles whilst also shining in his own right. There is a reason that he has worked with directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg, and it isn’t because he is the giant douchebag that he is continually perceived to be. It’s because he delivers. He performs on screen and off, bursting with a passion and energy that leaves actors half his age shaking with envy. And so they should.

By Laura Kerrigan

For the prosecution:

Tom Cruise

I think trying to excoriate Tom Cruise the man would be a redundant exercise. He’s clearly a certifiable twonk, managing as he does to consistently ruin his public appearances with bouts of Boris Karloff-style mad laughter, vicious and unfounded arguments against pharmacology and occasionally some impromptu sofa stomping. So in the interests of fairness, I’m going to ignore his affiliation to a murderous, unethical cult which should be as ruthlessly suppressed as are its detractors (gosh, did that slip out?) and concentrate on just what a dreadful actor he is.

The truth of the matter is, Mr Cruise is very good at what he does. Unfortunately, what he does is play every role he’s given in as bland a manner as is humanly possible. This is not to say that he’s never been a worthwhile actor – he was perfectly adequate for perhaps the first ten years of his career, with solid if unmemorable performances in both Rain Man and Interview With The Vampire despite being effortlessly outshone by his co-stars Dustin Hoffman and Brad Pitt.

The real change came with 1996’s Mission: Impossible, notable both for being the first film made by Cruise’s production company Cruise/Wagner and for marking the point at which he stopped making any effort whatsoever with his work. It must have become obvious to Cruise that if the viewing public would applaud him as a one-dimensional macho twat in M:I as well as Top Gun, they might just carry on doing it for another twenty years (or if Sly Stallone is any example, another fifty). Much more of the same followed, interspersed with insipid pseudo-dramas to keep the girls happy – I only sat through Jerry Maguire for the sake of seeing Cuba Gooding Jr., and Eyes Wide Shut was a grotesquely overblown wet dream with no more than a passing nod to an actual storyline. The less said about Mission: Impossible II, the better.

Tom Cruise is bad enough when he’s arsing around with a pistol (and running – WHY does he always have to run everywhere?), but for my money his most painful performances are when he’s trying to be meaningful. This applies to more or less everything he’s made since the millennium – the hackneyed philosophy of Minority Report was much less memorable than those stupid gloves, War of the Worlds‘ anti-war message nearly made me choke on my tongue and Valkyrie was nothing short of an insult to the hero Cruise mocked with his shoddy performance. The Last Samurai was just – just – rescued by Ken Watanabe, but it was a very close call. Plus, of course, we’ve had yet another M:I film (with a fourth to follow!), the laboured testosterone-heavy dross of Collateral and now Knight and Day. This attempt to assert Cruise’s credentials as a comic actor as well as a featureless plank of wood with a gun and an odd religion has basically fallen on its arse, with the lowest US opening weekend for a Tom Cruise action film in the last twenty years.

I think a howler like Knight and Day is exactly what Tom needed. Maybe now he’ll have to acknowledge that after a career based around one character and one character only, explosions and machine guns aren’t going to keep pulling in the punters forever. Mind you, knowing him it’ll probably be Xenu‘s fault. Nutter.

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