Thursday, July 30, 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like (The Old) Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible:: Rogue Nation
Here's the general truth: I do not care about Tom Cruise nowadays. It is very likely that I will never see Mission: Impossible:: Rogue Nation. His recent string of action movies are the kind that don't appeal to me, even causing a trip to see Oblivion to leave me wondering if the movie was just bad or I had undiagnosed A.D.D. that made staring at the ceiling all the more interesting. Yet there is something that a more recent audience must accept that isn't entirely represented by his recent output: Cruise was actually a pretty good actor when he had subject matter that challenged him. True, these films challenge him to scale skyscrapers and dangle from planes, but what I mean is that Cruise is actually secretly good.

My general disinterest in him as a performer became most indicative in the infamous South Park Scientology episode. In that moment, he gave a backlash so strong that it shifted my views of his work, even making recent fare like Collateral fade from good intentions. To a large extent, I still think that Scientology has shattered the appeal of some performers with Cruise's eccentricities being more prominent. Of course, my general disinterest in Mission: Impossible:: Rogue Nation stems more largely from my disinterest in major blockbusters than specifically Cruise - though I can't count more than a few of his that I actually have seen and less that I cared for.

My story is very familiar to those that have gotten a kick out of watching prestige movies. I may not be the snob about it that I once was, but I do hold these films to a certain higher level of respect. In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest that a large reason that I used to hate Cruise was because I remain fairly young and unexposed to his films prior to the turn of the millennium. In fact, the only one that a 15-year-old me could likely recite was Top Gun: a film that I had no desire to see because it looked too cornball - a general genre that I have greatly lost interest in. That is probably what made me roll my eyes and exhaustively shout "Not him again" every time a film came out of where he was the star. True, I still would dislike works like Oblivion, but I began to come from a more objective place.

Much like Bradley Cooper or Johnny Depp after him, Cruise has earned three Oscar nominations in a very short span. While we can complain that the Oscars don't always nominate the right people, I don't feel like that has ever been the case three times. The one interesting note is that unlike the other two, these are fairly removed from the modern zeitgeist. The films Born of the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire, and Magnolia aren't films that people discuss as often when Cruise's name is brought up. True, Cruise is allowed to do action films if that's what interests him. However, there's film fans like myself who are more interested in what he can do in more complicated roles.

Cruise in  A Few Good Men
The big revelation likely came awhile back when I decided to watch  A Few Good Men for the first time. While Rob Reiner has become questionable as a director, I must admit that his earlier output is phenomenally consistent and challenging. I was familiar with the "You can't handle the truth" line and that Aaron Sorkin had written the script. Even my deep admiration for Jack Nicholson hadn't prepared me for the reality: this was Cruise's movie. It wasn't just that he brought his A-Game, he was able to hold his own alongside the legendary Jack Nicholson in a court room drama: a genre that isn't always rewarding. He was able to focus his insanity into and deliver something magnetic and excruciating. He tore apart Nicholson and became the real star of the film.

It may have not been the first prestigious Cruise movie I had seen. As someone who watched all Best Picture winners, I was obviously familiar with Rain Man - which came across more as an alteration on his cocky persona. Even as a Paul Thomas Anderson fan, Magnolia only came across as an alteration on his cocky persona. I had difficulty seeing anything but the Cruise that South Park made me hate in those roles. Admittedly, they aren't by any means bad. They are just simply personas that I didn't care about. To an extent, this is what keeps me from wanting to watch his recent blockbusters as well.

In reality, there isn't a whole lot else that I can add to this equation. He did a great job as well in Eyes Wide Shut, but how much of that was more Stanley Kubrick's meticulous direction? It was more tonally eerie than reliant on Cruise giving a stellar performance. If anything, I appreciated this era because it was at least proving that he could take on more challenging work that made you invested in his cocky persona. He still has it and it's arguably now stuck on autopilot in between people getting distracted by his Scientology roots. It is likely that I am doing a disservice by not finding interest in blockbusters. Even then, he still has managed to pop up in roles such as Tropic Thunder and make you realize that he is a force of nature with the right role. Even his dancing in a fat suit was great work.

I have nothing really to say other than Cruise is in a camp of actors who you want to say are great, but haven't had evidence in their past few efforts. For me, I am slowly working through his back catalog, trying to find those moments akin to A Few Good Men where you don't see an actor with a spotty public persona, but an actor wanting to convince you of his talent. I have seen traces of it here and there, but not in a large quantity. So while I could use Mission: Impossible:: Rogue Nation to just put him down as I had in the past, I want to just say that I can't really. He is a good actor with a few good movies. I just wish that I could name a few other ones of note.

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