FEATURE: Cruise Control, Part 2

24 06 2010

“Action is character.  If we didn’t do anything, we wouldn’t be anyone.”

– Carey Mulligan as Jenny in “An Education”

Yesterday, I celebrated Tom Cruise by discussing the roles he didn’t take.  It’s certainly an honor to be considered for so many incredible parts as he has been, and it does show a lot about him.  However, like Jenny suggests in the quote above, we are defined by what we do, not by what we don’t.

So, to top off my look at Tom Cruise, I will offer up what I’ve taken from the movies that he has been in.  As you will probably notice, I have seen very little of his work prior to this decade.  So the portrait I can paint of Cruise with what I have seen is very limited.  It’s definitely not the prime of his career; most will agree that his celebrity has waned this decade, particularly in the past five years.  But nonetheless, he’s still a big draw – or at least a talking point.

Look closely on the right – yes, that is Tom Cruise.  He had only a small role in “The Outsiders,” but any part in a Francis Ford Coppola movie is worth noting.  I love the movie for reasons that Cruise had nothing to do with, mainly because of my deep admiration for the source material by S.E. Hinton.

1983, the year “The Outsiders” was released, was a big year for Cruise.  It saw the release of “Risky Business,” which earned him a Golden Globe nomination and a spot in pop culture history for the infamous boxers dance.  I’ve only seen it bits and pieces, so I can’t really say much about it.  I also haven’t seen “Top Gun,” Cruise’s first major box office smash.  In fact, the gap in my Cruise filmography extends all the way to 1988…

…when “Rain Man” was released and won Best Picture.  It’s just one of those solid, well-made movies that is impossible to hate.  The movie is a touching drama, anchored not only by Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance as the autistic savant Raymond but also by Tom Cruise as his frustrated brother Charlie.  At the beginning of their journey together, Charlie treats Raymond with unashamed hostility.  Thanks to Cruise’s expert acting, our hearts are warmed as his character’s heart melts.

There’s another four year gap between the next Cruise movie I’ve seen, a gap in which Cruise racked up his first Oscar nomination for “Born on the Fourth of July.”  In 1992, my birth year, he starred in another solid movie …

… known as “A Few Good Men.”  The movie received a deserved nomination for Best Picture, and much of its success came from Tom Cruise’s performance.  As Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, he’s best described by his exclamation, “I WANT THE TRUTH,” which Jack Nicholson’s Jessup follows up with “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH.”  It’s a well-scripted drama and moral tale written by Aaron Sorkin, and Cruise absolutely dives into the material.  If anyone has doubts that he can act, they should watch this movie.

Yet another large gap in the filmography now, so fast-forward to 1996.  Not much happens in between other than the release of “Mission: Impossible,” a film adaptation of the popular television series.  It would ultimately become a huge franchise (and apparently still is), but he had another hit that very same year …

… that completes this sentence – “Jerry Maguire.”  As the sports agent suffering from an attack of conscience, Cruise played the man just trying to do the right thing, and he got another chance at Oscar gold.  It’s a great movie that launched a whole new set of cliches – “you complete me” and “you had me at hello,” now standards in the corny love lines book.  They wouldn’t be cliched if Cruise hadn’t acted the heck out of them, and maybe he even acted them too much.  But don’t let the ending distract from an otherwise great movie, a thoughtful reflection on morals in the business world written and directed by Cameron Crowe.

Ready for it?  A third four-year gap!  To be fair, from 1996 to 1999, Cruise was only in two movies: the three-plus-hours “Magnolia” that earned him a third Oscar nomination, and Stanley Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes Wide Shut.”  So now it’s sequel time for Cruise as he heads to …

… “Mission: Impossible II.”  I haven’t seen the first one, so I can’t weigh it against that.  But compared to the tertiary installment, this is a muddled mess.  I didn’t really care much for it at all.  I found no reason to invest any sort of brainpower into figuring out the plot, nor a reason to actually care what happened to the characters.  If you like mindless explosions and action, only then can I recommend this movie.

Cruise teamed up with Cameron Crowe once again in 2001 for “Vanilla Sky,” then worked with the one, the only, Steven Spielberg, to create …

… “Minority Report,” one of the most haunting dystopian futures I’ve ever seen on screen.  I don’t remember much about the movie because I saw it so long ago, only that I loved it and that it was incredibly thought-provoking.  It has a visually arresting style and serves to remind you why Spielberg’s name has become synonymous with success in the movie industry.

Finally, no gap!  That is, unless you count his cameo in “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” which I had forgotten about until IMDb refreshed my memory.  Cruise then went to work for Edward Zwick to make …

… live-action “Avatar” set in 1890s Japan.  You might know it as “The Last Samurai.”  Or maybe, if you truly are a child of the ’90s, “Pocahontas” or “Dances with Wolves.”  Their collaboration is a rehash of the classic “outsider sent to conquer natives becomes one of them” premise, and it’s a bloated two-and-a-half hour experience that rarely provides anything to justify such a large time commitment.

Then it’s on to possibly my favorite Cruise movie, this time a collaboration with Michael Mann, a gripping dramatic thriller …

… where Cruise played a villain, for a change.  “Collateral” is a movie that brings out the best in Cruise by bringing out his worst.  He’s shockingly terrifying in a fast-paced crime thriller that has your heart pumping nonstop.  And it’s not only his villainous Vincent that works; he and Jamie Foxx’s Max, the cabbie that takes the killer around Los Angeles, are both totally realized.  It’s a totally satisfying watch and a kind of movie that Cruise should do more often.

And because once wasn’t enough to work with Steven Spielberg, they teamed up again to create …

… or rather, remake, “War of the Worlds.”  Surprisingly simple for a Spielberg movie, it can accurately be described as “the world opening up and everybody but Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning falling in.”  It’s explosion after apocalyptic explosion, and it gets tired after about the second one.  By the end, you’ll be laughing as Tom Cruise manages to avoid each one of them.  On the bright side, if Cruise wasn’t promoting this movie, he may never have jumped on Oprah’s couch!

Then it was back to the familiar territory with …

… “Mission: Impossible III,” which was actually very good.  Anything is when you have J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair and Philip Seymour Hoffman as your villain.  Abrams’ take on the series is gripping, a good mix of plot and character development with the action we all want.  Apparently, they are going to resurrect the series with Brad Bird of “The Incredibles” fame at the helm.  I’d prefer Abrams though, who was clearly the reason I loved this movie so much.

Cruise then stayed fairly low-key for a while to start a family with Katie Holmes, appearing in 2007 only in the smaller “Lions for Lambs.”  Then, out of nowhere, Cruise turned in a Golden Globe-nominated performance …

… or should I say, cameo, in “Tropic Thunder.”  Disguised under a whole lot of hair and makeup, many people didn’t even recognize Cruise as the foul-mouthed studio executive Les Grossman.  He was definitely one of the highlights of an otherwise lackluster movie, and he was strangely resurrected for the MTV Movie Awards this year.  Well, not so surprisingly when you figure that it was for an excuse to make a Les Grossman movie.  I’m calling the imminent demise of the movie right now.  It’s like an “SNL” movie, based on characters we can only take in dosages of minutes at a time.  Les Grossman isn’t a character that can sustain an hour and a half.

But enough with the future and back to the past, with the movie that moved release dates about a hundred times …

… well, actually only six times.  “Valkyrie” actually proved to be an OK movie.  Cruise played the leader of a plot to kill Hitler, a shocking action considering his high position in the Nazi military.  It’s still possible to get involved in the movie even though we all know how it’s going to end – SPOILER ALERT: Hitler lives.

And that’s all, folks.  I hope you have enjoyed my sloppy trip through Tom Cruise’s nearly 30 years in cinema.  Enjoy “Knight & Day” if you choose to see it.


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