Cruise control or an action hero running out of road?

If the Mission Impossible star wishes for career longevity, then it’s time for him to take on some meatier roles


Tom Cruise at the European premiere of 'Rock Of Ages' in Leicester Square, London.
Tom Cruise at the European premiere of ‘Rock Of Ages’ in Leicester Square, London.
Tom Cruise in Top Gun

Where do you stand on Tom Cruise? No one seems to be agnostic, and while some movie-goers have loved him faithfully since his 1980s heyday, others can’t stand the sight of the chap. For the last decade or more, critics have been discussing a career tailspin, and wondering aloud where it all went wrong. Tom’s faithful adherence to the tenets of Scientology has alienated many well-wishers, and his eccentric appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show in the mid-2000s convinced some the Cruiser was a certified fruit bat.

And yet, Cruise remains one of the most astute and powerful dealmakers in Hollywood, and though naysayers constantly talk of career decline, his recent track record hasn’t been that bad. Films like Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow have been well received and performed solidly, while the last instalment in the Mission Impossible franchise, 2015’s Rogue Nation, grossed almost $700m, a staggering figure that would surely not have been achieved without the presence of Cruise.

Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth in the series, opens in these parts next week, and is sure to achieve similar success. And in 2019, Tom will reprise arguably his most famous role of all, that of cocky naval pilot Pete Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick, an eagerly awaited sequel that could just be the movie of next summer.

So is Tom on the rebound? Possibly, but only by playing to his strengths in a manner that may soon become problematic.

At some point in the early 2000s, Cruise – who it should be remembered was once considered a fairly serious actor – hitched his wagon definitively to the genre in which he felt most comfortable, the action movie.

Up until that point he’d experimented with romantic comedy (Jerry Maguire) and dark, dramatic roles (Rain Man, Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July), but from Vanilla Sky on, it was action all the way. Sometimes the action was futuristic (Minority Report, War of the Worlds), sometimes it had a period setting (The Last Samurai, Valkyrie), but almost invariably, it involved Cruise charging along rooftops, breaking down doors, and kicking ass.

Critics like Roger Ebert began talking about the ‘Tom Cruise Picture’, a rigid formula of ingredients that guaranteed box-office success. Then there’s the ‘Cruise run’: when I interviewed Domhnall Gleeson about his role opposite Cruise in American Made, he told me “there are these moments where you stop yourself – and if you see him running, you go, oh my God, that’s Tom Cruise running!”

He is an action man, no question, and his dedication to his craft is legendary. In a recent interview, he described how he sprinted on a broken ankle during the filming of Mission Impossible: Fallout after injuring himself during a jumping stunt. “Afterwards, I couldn’t walk for days,” he said, “but you do it, you suck it up and you do it.”

Indeed you do, and Cruise is notorious for placing himself in harm’s way by insisting on doing his own stunts. He defies the years in his ability to convince as an action hero, but is surely bound to run out of road in this regard pretty soon. Cruise doesn’t look it, but he’s 56, and will be well aware that even the most compelling screen action man can suddenly seem ridiculous when the joints start to stiffen. So if he wishes to remain a film star into his sixties, he may have to organise a plan B.

He could try acting, because he used to be pretty good at it. After breaking through in the early 1980s in such irresistibly silly fare as Cocktail, Top Gun and Risky Business, Cruise proved he was more than just a pretty face by taking on meatier roles.

He held his own against the great Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese’s Color of Money (1986), and earned the first of three Oscar nominations (he’s never won) playing the paralysed Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989).

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He showed an unexpected flair for comedy in Cameron Crowe’s winning 1996 romcom Jerry Maguire, and delivered for me his most intense and electrifying performance ever as a ghastly self-help guru in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999).

Cruise can act, but audiences no longer seem to expect it of him. When American Made, a very solid drama based on the true story of an airline pilot who became a CIA informant, was released in the US last summer, it tanked at the box office. He was very good in it, toning down his innate cheesiness to convincingly portray an ambitious fool, but American Made had one of the lowest-grossing opening weekends ever for a Cruise film, and only recovered thanks to international returns.

The problem could be this: his diehard American fans want action Tom and nothing else, while less impassioned viewers find poor Tom ever so slightly creepy whatever he does. The culprit is surely his faith.

It was his first wife Mimi Rogers who introduced Cruise to Scientology, the controversial American religion founded in the 1950s by L Ron Hubbard.

Scientologists believe that humans are immortal spiritual beings that have forgotten their true extraterrestrial natures. Psychiatrists, anti-depressants and a good deal of modern medicine are viewed with deep suspicion by the faith, whose members stick so closely together that Scientology has often been described as a cult.

Cruise has credited the religion with curing his dyslexia and giving him a purpose in life, and has become a powerful proselytiser on its behalf.

Over the years his beliefs have embroiled him in some unseemly public spats, and the secrecy with which the Church of Scientology goes about its business has made him a figure of suspicion by association.

All of which has led to a tendency among journalists to have a pop at the man whenever possible, this despite the fact that he always comes across as very pleasant, if occasionally eccentric, in interviews.

Most eccentric of all was his infamous appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s chat show in 2005, when the then twice-divorced Cruise climbed on Oprah’s sofa and jumped up and down before dropping on to one knee and professing his love for new girlfriend Katie Holmes.

It was all most embarrassing, and unfortunately for Cruise, a certain high-profile celebrity biographer was watching. Andrew Morton, who’d made his name with a controversial tell-all biography of Diana, Princess of Wales, was fascinated by Cruise’s Oprah performance, and wondered “what was a 42-year-old man… doing behaving in this fashion, all because of Katie Holmes, a woman he has known for a matter of days?”

The charitable view would have been that old Cruise is a bit of a romantic, but in Tom Cruise: An Unauthorised Biography, Morton took a different stance. Among the allegations he made was the suggestion that Holmes had “auditioned” for the role of Cruise’s girlfriend in competition with other actresses.

Morton’s book also asserted that Cruise is the number-two figure in Scientology in America. He’s certainly close to the church’s leader, David Miscavige, and has helped hugely increase Scientology’s popularity. According to Morton, it was Cruise who recruited Will Smith and his wife, and would have succeeded in wooing David Beckham as well if wife Victoria hadn’t put a stop to it.

How much of this is true is anybody’s guess, but persistent rumours have encouraged the belief that all is not as perfect as it seems on planet Cruise.

But whatever about all that, Tom remains that rarest of creatures, a genuine 1000-watt movie star. So maybe he’ll have the good sense to make Top Gun 2 his farewell to the action genre, and start taking on roles worthier of his age, and talent.

 

Tom’s Top five

Top Gun


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Tom Cruise in Top Gun

 

It’s the quintessential Cruise movie, a racy Tony Scott caper about conceited US Navy pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (above) who must learn the value of teamwork when he attends an elite training school.

Born on the Fourth of July

Tom surprised many with the intensity of his performance in Oliver Stone’s biopic of Ron Kovic, a wounded US Marine who became a passionate anti-Vietnam War campaigner.

Jerry Maguire

In one of his most likeable films, Cruise is thoroughly winning as a struggling sports agent who gambles his career on a foul-mouthed American footballer who swears he’s going to be the next big thing.

Magnolia

Tom’s performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark ensemble drama was nothing less than compelling, and he entirely convinces as a slick, bitter and profoundly misogynistic self-help guru.

Minority Report

Gripping Steven Spielberg thriller starring Tom as a futuristic cop who arrests people for crimes they will shortly commit, but is forced to go on the run after the finger is pointed at him.

Indo Review

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