Cruising for a bruising

Tom Cruise Jerry MaguireWe were recently reviewing the sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion on the Failed Critics Podcast, when a reasonably good-natured chat nearly came to virtual blows at the subject of Tom Cruise. The sad thing is I wasn’t really surprised. If Tom Cruise has a super power, it is turning normally sane and reasonable film fans into rabid hate-filled balls of impotent rage.

A quick peer-reviewed straw poll on Twitter tells me that in the last hour alone people have proffered unsolicited opinions like:

“Am i the only one round here who thinks tom cruise is a tampon?”

“Shoot Me now, I find tom cruise attractive in Rock Of Ages… #embarrassed”

“He may only be 2ft tall, but Tom Cruise is actually quite sexy in Rock of Ages”

“F u Tom Cruise just f u for u movies! Urhh!”

“Jack Reacher: Clever enough for action fans and despite it being a Tom Cruise wankathon, it holds its own”

“They shoulda cast Keanu reeves instead of Tom cruise though. I’ve hated his face ever since vanilla sky” [I can’t work out which film should have cast Reeves instead of Cruise, so I’m just going to guess it was The Last Samurai’s Bogus Journey]

There are several criticisms here. Firstly, let’s deal with Cruise’s crimes against humanity that have absolutely nothing to do with his cinematic body of work.

Charge 1: He’s short

Yep, Tom Cruise is a shorter than average man, measuring in at only 5’7”. I’ve already touched upon his ‘controversial’ casting in the Jack Reacher film in my review last year, but he’s clearly too short to play an action hero, or to be an imposing physical presence. How dare he believe he could play that kind of role? What a complete narcissist.

It’s a good job that 5’7” Robert Downey Jnr isn’t currently starring as the one of the most iconic superheroes of modern times in Iron Man 3. Oh, and let’s not tell Javier Bardem that at 5’7” he’s too short to be taken seriously as a threat to James Bond in Skyfall (after all, the 5’10 Daniel Craig could easily kick his ass).

Charge 2: He’s a Scientologist

I’ll be honest; I’m more than a little freaked out by the ‘Church’ of Scientology. If Cruise wasn’t a Scientologist I think he’d get a lot less nonsense written about him, and I’d have an easier task of trying to convince you that he is probably the most impressive movie star of the last 20 years. Yep, he is probably the most famous disciple of L. Ron Hubbard and his bizarre teachings, but there are some double-standards going on here. I don’t see many people taking pot-shots at many other famous Scientologists, including the brilliant musician Beck, the terrible musican but great screen presence Julliette Lewis, or respected actors Jason Lee (My Name is Earl and most Kevin Smith films), Giovanni Ribisi (Ted and Gangster Squad), and Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men and The West Wing).

And what about the equally bizarre and dangerous Catholic beliefs that Steve Carrell and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) hold? Don’t even get me started on the fact that my beloved Michael J. Fox, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Bruce Willis, and Arnie are card-carrying Republicans who believe in the obliteration of everything I politically hold dear. I can still enjoy their screen performances despite the fact I probably wouldn’t want to share a dinner table with them when the conversation turned to religion or politics.

Charge 3: He’s in the closet

This is the most disingenuous and frankly distasteful undercurrent regarding the public perception of Cruise. I have no idea if he’s gay, and frankly I really don’t care. It’s none of our business. On that subject, his marriages, children, and what he has for breakfast are equally irrelevant, and a sad indictment of a society obsessed with what people are, rather than what they actually do.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what really is important in this debate; his contribution to cinema over the last 25+ years.

Defence 1: He’s bankable

He is still one of the most recognisable and bankable movie stars on the planet. His appearance in a film not only guarantees it getting made, but more often than not results in a critical and commercial hit.

That’s right, critical.

Using movie review site Rotten Tomatoes (which collates the reviews of hundreds of established reviewers to establish if a film is ‘fresh’ or ‘rotten’) we can see that of the 33 films that Cruise has starred in since Risky Business, 22 of them have had a positive reaction from the critics. That’s a 67% ‘success’ rate, which compares pretty favourably to other more respected stars such as George Clooney (67%), Johnny Depp (61%), and Brad Pitt (68%).

Some haters profess to enjoy well-received Cruise films in spite of his involvement, at the same time painting him as a control freak whose narcissistic impulses are imprinted all over the film. This rather begs the question which parts did they actually enjoy?

Defence 2: He plays himself

Another criticism I hear levelled against Cruise is that he plays the same character in every film. Again, not only is this utter bobbins, but the same criticism could easily be aimed (more appropriately) at other less-criticised actors. Harrison Ford never really showed us any range apart from charming Ford, or angry Ford. Arnie was Arnie in literally every film he appeared in, and Denzel Washington is similarly limited despite the baubles thrown at him by the Academy.

In his blockbuster films Cruise does play a version of himself every time, because that is what audiences expect and want. But when he wants to he can really bust out some impressive acting chops. Take a look at his roles in Interview With the Vampire, Collateral, Magnolia, and Tropic Thunder and tell me that’s Cruise being himself. I know I’m a know-nothing bedroom film critic who couldn’t possibly know better than you, so why not listen to Dustin Hoffman who said Cruise on the set of Rain Man was the most disciplined actor he’d ever worked with. Or the fact that directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Cameron Crowe, and JJ Abrams have all praised his work ethic.

Defence 3: He’s Tom fucking Cruise

And that’s the final point I want to make. Whatever you think of his technical abilities or her personal life, Cruise always commits completely. He’s nearly 50 and is one of the few actors in Hollywood who still insists on doing all his own stunts. That man climbing the world’s tallest building in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol? Tom fucking Cruise. Whether it’s in his stunts, or in his acting work he leaves everything out there on the field. He even throws himself into the publicity tour every single time. Only a Grinch with a heart of stone could find something to bitch about when Cruise spends hours with fans at red carpet events, but that doesn’t stop some of you.

You’ll miss him when he’s gone.

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