No Tom! Not the couch. Yes, right, ok, the couch then. No Tom! Not Lions for Lambs! Oh, you’ve gone and done it. And what’s that, Knight and Day?? If you must, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. Yes Tom! You and comedy will never quite gel – Tropic Thunder and Rock Of Ages safely filed into evidence thank you. Happy Birthday by the way – fifty right? That would be a Yes Tom! A milestone in anyone’s book that. But this new divorce thing, that would be a No Tom…
Indeed, just as the world’s most upright running superstar approached fifty years of age, a slew of column inches already poised the world over, Tom Cruise was suddenly served divorce proceedings. Cue column inch Armageddon. But what the man continues to do is make movies. Bankable ones at that. He’s grossed an estimated $75 million in the last twelve months alone. Indeed the much publicised Paramount split post-Oprah in 2005 prompted him (and Paula Wagner) to resurrect a whole studio and self-produce most of his major vehicles ever since. He makes more money this way. But will Tom’s personal travails; Katie, Scientology and looming custody battle, finally impact on the dead cert A-list power that has remained relatively undiminished even after some over zealous couch leaping? Perhaps, but it might be more old fashioned that that. For a long time now, he’s simply stopped making good movies.
The last truly interesting role he played was in 2004 – as contract killer Vincent in Michael Mann’s slick LA neo-noir love-letter Collateral. It ended a fifteen-year period of adventurous, often challenging, career choices. Cast your mind back to 1989 when he first went against poster boy pin-up type playing Vietnam Vet Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s Born On The Fouth of July. (Over) acting his socks off, he garnered a deserved Golden Globe and Oscar nomination. It was a statement. Rain Man the previous year hinted that the freshly anointed Hollywood superstar could actually play a character approaching three dimensions. It was his first step away from supercharged fantasy / reality – Top Gun, Colour Of Money and Cocktail step forward. Days Of Thunder was a brief relapse before he fully embraced “serious” drama territory.
A Few Good Men stands up reasonably well over time (helped by a zinging Aaron Sorkin script) as does The Firm. Both films falling into the worthy but watchable mainstream Hollywood thriller formula. Both also helped by the then immutable Cruise high gloss presence. The Risky Business boy had mutated into an idealistic everyman, the quintessential good guy. Interestingly, Far and Away, the only overtly romantic role he had played to date, flunked comparatively at the box-office. Despite his clean cut, matinee idol looks an audience was unwilling to buy into him as a romantic lead. Ok, the movie was offensively awful, but apart from Jerry Maguire it’s the genre he has had least success in.
Interview With The Vampire was a genuine surprise. Here was real step away from type. A vampy horror drama. Then came Mission Impossible and Jerry Maguire. Cruise was now at the apogee of his career. Both movies were released in 1996 and complemented each other commercially and critically. And here he stopped. Three years away from the screen. To return with another double whammy in 1999 with Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia. Both difficult movies in different respects and hardly what you might call mainstream.
By now he got his standard $20 million for Eyes Wide Shut and took a “paltry” 100k for his role as Frank Mackey the sinister, strutting “motivational speaker” in Magnolia. Both were risky yet successful career choices. A couple of years later he did something similar, albeit with a move back to more mainstream territory in Vanilla Sky and Minority Report – both superior mainstream science fiction thrillers. It was another impressive double whammy. A brace of can do no wrong Tom. Yes Tom!
By now it had been a long time since a genuine career misstep. The non-stick aspect of his outward personality, its relatively unknown quality, protected the massive investment he had become. The audience knew what it was getting with Tom, a bona fide movie star. While the studio enjoyed the financial comfort of another Cruise blockbuster bruiser. Mutual safety. His movies made money and he made some pretty decent ones on the whole. Here was an American everyman who could do action and a neat dash of overwrought idealistic heart. His vigour and energy stood him apart from a fellow blockbusting Tom (of the Hanks variety) and he wasn’t so wilfully disruptive of his own pretty boy image as Brad Pitt. With Collateral he chalked off working with another of the great Hollywood directors. Adding Michael Mann to a list that included, Stone, Spielberg, Kubrick, Anderson, Scorsese, Pollack and DePalma…Yes Tom!
Then we enter the second half of the last decade. A new lady in his life. Oprah. His Scientology coming front and centre like never before. But despite being over-analysed and parodied to death, the couch fiasco opened a can of worms that, to this day, has yet to be fully resolved. It caused the public to engage in a massive subconscious paradigm shift, difficult to articulate qualitatively – his movie’s still make bucket loads of money – but there nonetheless. And those buckets of money are leaking. The last number of years have seen some flops the likes of which he’s rarely had to endure – Lions for Lambs, Knight and Day and Rock of Ages. In fact, strip away the Mission Impossible juggernaut and you have a decidedly mixed bag since ’05. Coupled with the fact that he doesn’t take the professional risks he once did and you have the “Tom Lite” of recent years. We still go see his movies but in them, surrounded by a cast and with a script perfectly tailored to suit the Cruise factor, he stands curiously apart from the scenery. For now we’re still engaging in that strange dance of movie star make believe, the sheer power of his enduring star quality keeping him afloat. But that light has been burning for over twenty-five years and unless he starts a McConnaughy like re-invention he may soon implode under the power of his own gravitational pull. NO TOM NOOOOOOOOO…