(Original Source: My Blog Severe Enigma )
Relevance. That is pretty much what Hollywood actors are all about. How long is one present in the industry? How many important roles are they getting? How relevant are they for the movie industry?
Most actors degrade their best works by doing mediocre roles in their later career. We have Sylvester Stallone doing movies like Expendables and Bullet to the Head, Arnold Schwarzenegger doing roles in Escape Plan and The Last stand, degrading their iconic roles in Rocky, Rambo and Terminator. Even seasoned veterans like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are not untouched by this phenomena.
But there’s one actor who has been highly relevant and still going strong after more than 30 years in the Hollywood industry. He has outlasted many of his contemporaries since making debut as lead role in Risky Business (1983). Tom Cruise has worked in so many genres with so many iconic directors, that it is impossible for any future movie star to have so many credible movie to their names. He has worked with directors like, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Brian De Palma, Cameron Crowe, Rob Reiner, Oliver Stone and even Ben Stiller! You don’t get to work with these directors without being a genuinely good artiste. He didn’t have an epic script always, he had great directors getting epic performances out of him.
Since his rockstar pilot role in Top Gun (1986) as Maverick, stardom had been thrust on him. He stood up against Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986). For a while it was said that maybe he can only do these eccentric characters only. But time and again he proved his critics wrong by doing character roles in movies such as Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Rain man (1988) and A Few Good Men (1992). His court battle with Jack Nicolson in the finale of A Few Good Men is as classic as it gets. By mid-90s Hollywood had 2 superstars: Tom Cruise and Jim Carrey. There were many stars and many actors. There was Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, etc. But these two were the most bankable of them all. And they both took different paths to lengthen their hold on top of pyramid.
While showing his action skills in spy thriller Mission Impossible (1996), he was also doing a role of subtle warrior in Jerry Maguire (1996). 1996 may have been his pinnacle in the long career. On one hand we got to experience an American James Bond in his role as Ethan Hunt, on the other hand we had Jerry Maguire where Cruise was veering into the territory of Tom Hanks! Jerry Maguire was his most restrained yet combatant role. This was Tom Cruise at his best. When you see him asking Cuba Gooding Jr to “Help me help you”, you just wish him to succeed and have everything in life. He made us attach to that selfish character. He then went on to do some extra-territorial work in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and Magnolia (1999).
In 2002 came Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002), the first Tom Cruise movie I ever watched. Even at that time I realized difference between him and so many other action stars. He is so much professionally involved for even action movies like Minority Report and Mission Impossible series, which you didn’t get from other actors. You would never be worried about Jason Statham in Transporter series, or Matt Damon in Bourne series. But there’s something about his embroilment in his movies that it makes you cheer for him. Even at that time he was doing highly emotional movie like The Last Samurai (2003). Even his highly underrated Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) has a stupendous performance from Cruise and a marvelous chemistry between Cruise and Jamie Foxx.
But then, in 2005 came the turning point of his life. His appearance in Oprah Winfrey show changed his life and career for good. He was odd and seemed high for a bit, and then he jumped on the couch to express his love for Katie Holmes which was totally insane. Before that incident no one ever knew how Tom Cruise was in his personal life. He rarely gave one-on-one interviews and seldom discussed his personal life. But that one moment gave the tabloids the fodder it needed on this guy. And it destroyed his image in the eyes of his audience for a long time. Coupled with that, his support for religion of Scientology. A religion which has less a thing to do with Science than the Harry Potter saga. Tom Cruise, after that incident was a peculiar and bizarre person in public eyes. Even though almost all the people who have worked with him have only good things to say about him. But in America, Tom Cruise is a living example of how Tabloid world can ruin a person.
This not only affected him in his personal life, but his career nosedived for a while. Even a brilliant screenplay and direction from J J Abrams couldn’t save Cruise’s tent pole Mission Impossible 3 from being the least earner of the movie. It was more due to the fact that his off-screen persona was affecting his on-screen work. The movie was several notches higher than the previous one but still it failed at the box-office. He was never cast in a role of subtle aggressor like that of Jerry Maguire and A Few Good Men. Those roles were as perfectly portrayed by Cruise as it could have been by even the best actors of the industry.
Although, we had Valkyrie (2008), where he played the role of Claus von Stauffenberg, who plotted to kill Adolf Hitler in 1944. As always he played his part to perfect, but it was very inconveniently ignored by audience and critics alike.
After that what we really got was one action movie after another. No doubt he was great in all of those. Knight & Day (2010), Mission Impossible 4 (2011), Jack Reacher (2012), Oblivion (2013), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and now again Mission Impossible 5 (2015). To be fair, Tom Cruise still gives himself all in for these movies. He is one of the most hard-working actor. For the ridiculous amount of money he gets for his roles, he doesn’t let his directors down and gives intense performances every time. He does it all: the tough stunts, the smallest talk show interviews and those intense runs. He even does his own ridiculous stunts. Be it dangling from 150th floor on Burj Al Arab or hanging on the side of Boeing as it takes off and travels at a height of 15000 feet. We are getting great superstar performances. He has transformed himself into more popular and more talented version of Jason Statham.
But still we are missing something. We are missing a great Tom Cruise performance. We are missing a helpless rebel of Born on The Fourth of July, an indifferent but caring brother of Rain man, an adamant lawyer of A Few Good Men. We are missing a romantic Tom Cruise performance, we are missing a “You had me at hello” performance.
Is it all due to reluctance of directors to cast him in such movies or is it his own sub conscious decision? We may never know.
But in recent years the public perception of Cruise has turned little favorable even though he went through his 3rd divorce with Katie Holmes. A small credit to this turn should go to his funny role in Tropic Thunder (2008) as Les Grossman. People were surprised to find that he has some funny bones in there. He did diverse roles earlier in his career, but has stopped taking risks in the characters he plays for last some years.And there's a new Mission Impossible movie coming on August 7 which looks pretty incredible. Christopher McQuarry (writer of Usual Suspects) has directed it. So we can expect a strong script coupled with strong performance from Cruise. But it still is another action Cruise!
Maybe someday he will combine with some great director again and turn a mediocre script into marvelous movie.
As a last superstar of Hollywood, who still draws in audience on his face value it will be a sad end if we remember his last relevant roles from his action and mission movies only.
PS: “Last Superstar? But Robert Downey Jr is a more bankable superstar” - The Judge (2014), his only solo original movie in recent years couldn’t gross $100 million worldwide ($83 Million). Tom Cruie’s least grossing original movie in last 10 years is World War 2 drama-thriller Valkyrie ($200 Million).