Tom Cruise has come a very long way since his screen debut in Franc Zeffirelli’s Endless Love (1981). Thirty six movies and a whole lot of stardom later and he’s still the biggest movie star on the planet. He is perhaps, also the biggest film star in movie history. You’d be hard pushed to offer up any other actor that’s sustained that level of popularity and box office pull for that long. There is a good reason for this too. Cruise polarises opinion of course and there are those that would see his downfall, but in large part that’s due to all things that have little if nothing to do with Tom Cruise the filmmaker.
Being Tom Cruise must take a special kind of energy. So special in fact that he has sustained that level of dash for nigh on thirty years without letting up. And if Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, his latest force fest, is anything to go by, he’s not planning on slowing down anytime soon. There cannot be another actor on the planet who has run on screen more than Tom Cruise. It’s insane. It’s as if movies are a kind of sport for him, a place to workout and in many cases push himself to what some consider to be unacceptable limits. Tom Cruise isn’t simply an actor, he is, in no uncertain terms, a professional stunt man, motorcar and motorbike racer, free climber, a pilot and a total bloody maniac according to the first five minutes of the aforementioned film – a stunt performed by Cruise that might now rate as the most dangerous and daring stunt any actor in the history of film has ever undertaken?
There seems to be nothing this man will not do to entertain his minions. And the crowd, by and large, have been loving him for it for a long time. But this is just a single sum of all the parts that go to make up Tom Cruise the performer. It’s easy to forget, with his current preceding decade of mostly high-octane action movies, that Cruise is an actor of a considerable form. Even way back when cutting his teeth with Taps (’81), Risky Business and All The Right Moves (’83), Cruise was showing signs of real talent, an energised intensity that he continued to cultivate through the eighties that culminated in a performance that came after the film that would crown him king of the Hollywood movie stars, Top Gun (’86). That film was Martin Scorsese’s The Colour Of Money (’86), in which Cruise plays a hot-headed young pool hustler alongside the peerless Paul Newman. It’s not a film that’s flagged much, if ever, when discussing Cruise’s filmography, but it marks the point at which we see a young actor’s talent begin to mature.
And herein begins Cruise’s hop, skip and jumping between the standard run, grin, succeed and grin a bit more movie projects (Cocktail ’88/Days Of Thunder ’90) to movies that pushed and cultivated his acting talent to considerable heights. Most notable of these are Barry Levinson’s Rain Man (’88) and Oliver Stone’s Born On The Fourth Of July (’89). In both films, Cruise displays an impressive maturity and complexity showing a level of range that most actors who arrive and quickly gain Hollywood heartthrob status can only dream of. In the former, he confidently holds his own against Dustin Hoffman – Cruise is actually better, for while Hoffman plays an autistic older brother Raymond with aplomb (he bagged an Oscar for his performance), that’s all he play’s, a largely singular temperament all the way through, whereas Cruise, who plays the hard done by younger brother, Charlie, exposes an entire gamut of emotional conflict with singular precision. In the latter, Cruise plays Ron Kovic, a real-life war veteran who was paralysed from the waist down whilst serving a tour in Vietnam. His performance is nothing less than exceptional and again showed the critics that there was an empathetic property at work that Cruise could seemingly tap as and when a movie project demanded it.
The nineties produced a similar working dynamic. For every Far and Away (’92) or Jerry Maguire (’96), standard Cruise control movies, he gives us authority and charisma in A Few Good Men (’92) and The Firm (’93). In 1996 Cruise took on his first foray into producing. Mission: Impossible (co – produced with Paula Wagner) was to begin this very successful run of movies (fourteen to date) as a producer, many of them harvesting in extraordinary numbers at the box office. The noughties too, displayed Cruise’s penchant for interesting choices by way of calibre directors. Superb performances in Magnolia (’00)/ Vanilla Sky (’01), Minority Report (’02), Collateral (’04) and Tropic Thunder (’08) yet again solidified Cruise’s weight as an actor of range and, in the case of Tropic Thunder, a rare out and out comedy role, considerable bravery.
It would seem that Tom Cruise has, for the majority of his career, balanced his appetite for the traditional movie star role alongside character pieces that continue to stretch him as a performer. That said, the twenty tens haven’t seen much of the latter so far. Truly interesting pieces have been few and far between. But these are new times for the biggest movie star on the planet. Tom Cruise has gotten older. At 53, even with all the impressive running, jumping and beautifully tailored hair styles, he looks his age. How long does he intend to carry on making this kind of movie? Perhaps his latest run of action movies – Knight and Day (’10), Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (’11), Jack Reacher (’12), Oblivion (’13) and 2014’s Edge Of Tomorrow – are all part of the plan to slow it down with a lengthy bang, so to speak. As unlikely as this may be, one hopes that Cruise will at least indulge the odd departure character piece, a performance that shuts the tireless detractors up for just five minutes. Of course, the crown cannot but lie heavy when you are still the world’s biggest movie star and even cinema’s premier smiler can’t hope to be appraised solely on his creative efforts when you are also one of the world’s most controversial media figureheads, and mostly for the wrong reasons. Tom Cruise is good, but not that good.
But I say good luck to him. Here’s an actor and producer that, for the most part, has been all things (good and bad) to all his fans. An entertainer who has ceaselessly served cinema and looks set to carry on doing so for a good while to come.