Tag Archives: Scientology

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.

The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film that definitely isn’t about Scientology looks incredible and has two great (and at times, astonishing) central performances at its heart. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell – an able seaman recently discharged from the navy at the end of the war and struggling to hold down a civilian job due to his alcohol dependency. We’re not just talking too many beers and whiskys though – Quell is some kind of booze alchemist, creating potions and poisons from any drink and household chemicals he finds lying around. We’ve all known someone like Freddie Quell, and chances are we haven’t heard from them in the last ten years or so. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Lancaster Dodds, the ‘Master’ of The Cause, who takes Freddie under his wing and struggles to ‘cure’ and control him.

Anderson creates a hugely believable world, with an interesting premise. Amy Adams puts in a lovely performance as Dodd’s wife, while the audience is also treated to a wonderful soundtrack from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood.

Yet, The Master bored me immensely. In fact, I haven’t seen a film become less than the sum of its parts in such a drastic way in a very long time.

We’re presented with two fascinating characters, who when they’re talking to each other (and to the people around them) hold my interest and draw me in much like the cult they represent. The problem is neither character really goes on a personal or external journey of any real consequence. I could forgive the lack of a journey if I had some sense of the history of the characters, or some deeper insight into their motivations. Indeed, Quell’s lack of a personal journey is symptomatic of the failure of The Cause’s methods. But what makes Quell so different from all the other demobbed servicemen of the time? Does Dodds believe what he is teaching, and if not, what is leading him to deceive all these people? Over the course of the film’s 140-minute running time we see no great urge for money or power from Dodds.

The Cause is all about discovering past lives, and righting wrongs that may have happened billions of years ago. Perhaps it was Anderson’s intention to make the ‘current’ lives the viewer sees onscreen superficial and lacking in depth or context as a counterpoint to the teachings of The Cause. However frustrated me and felt like when I see singers get the crowd to bellow the lines of their biggest hit, seemingly unaware that the audience have paid to see them perform. Ambiguity has its place, but I demand my storytellers to actually tell me a story, and not rely on me to fill in the vast majority of the blanks.

There also appeared to be a TWENTY MINUTE training montage in the middle of the film. If you’re going to have a training montage, the least you can do is soundtrack it with something like “You’re the Best Around” from The Karate Kid.

Watching The Master felt like I was watching a film that I ‘should’ like. It did everything a great film should, and Anderson is clearly an incredibly talented director. I just couldn’t connect with this film at all.

It didn’t grab me here *points to heart*

Or engage me here *points to head*

Overall, there is plenty to admire about this film, but very little to love. Feels like a wasted opportunity.