The lights began to slowly brighten as the movie credits rolled onto the giant screen; Jack Reacher had reached its end. We stood and I could feel Sue’s eyes rake my face.
“Okay,” I said, “it was a bad movie and Cruise was wooden.”
There, I’d done it. Bared my neck and waited for her teeth. But she was kind. Must have been because it was our mini-honeymoon (mini-moon) in Providence. Still, I couldn’t help myself.
“I’m not crazy about him as an action hero either, you know.”
“I know,” Sue replied, her voice trailing off as if she wanted to say more but didn’t.
And there it was. An agreement to disagree, debate avoided. We’ve been having this “discussion” for decades and neither of us have given an inch, so this truce was really the best I could hope for.
Ever since Dustin Hoffman won an Academy Award for Rain Man in 1988, I’d become a Tom Cruise champion. I couldn’t believe they gave the Oscar to Hoffman while Cruise’s performance was rich, nuanced, with a real and believable arc.
I hadn’t been surprised by his ability. Nor was I surprised by his willingness to play against a super strong older actor. He’d done it before in The Color Of Money with Paul Newman and more than held his own. He would also do it again. A number of times.
Still Sue couldn’t understand why I believed he should have won Best Actor.
“Hoffman’s performance was terrific and Cruise is a lightweight.”
“What are you saying? You’ve seen Hoffman on talk shows. He damn near played himself in the movie.”
“It was different enough. And you still haven’t said anything about Cruse’s shallowness.”
“Because he isn’t!”
“I suppose not–if you reduce the idea of what being a man is to brash assertiveness.”
And so it has gone. When Cruise’s name comes up and I say tomato, Sue potato. Even when she actually likes one of his films.
But I haven’t come here today to bury Susan; I’ve come to praise Tom.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t much enjoy him in action pictures—though, I thought he was pretty good in Brian De Palma’s Mission Impossible. And the only thing I enjoyed about Eyes Wide Shut was Nichole Kidman. While I’m at it, I thought Days of Thunder was a clichéd story despite good performances by Cruise, Kidman, and especially Robert Duval—it was also another film where Cruise held his own working alongside a brilliant older male actor.
Sure, there are plenty of dogs in his portfolio. But when you look at the totality of his work I think it’s mission impossible to denigrate his acting prowess:
Top Gun where he fit the role perfectly.
All The Right Moves where moviegeeks.com said: “Tom Cruise shines as a high school football player desperately trying to land a college scholarship so he can leave his small town…” And rated the movie #18 in all time best football flicks. (Personally, I’d have rated it higher but that’s me. Yes, few can beat Dallas North Forty, but I never was a Knute Rockne or William Bendix fan—except for The Life Of Riley.)
A Few Good Men. The money line was shouted by Jack Nicholson, but once again Cruise was spot on with his portrayal of Lt. Daniel Kaffee and stood strong in the face of Nicholson’s performance and fury.
Jerry Maguire. “Show me the money!!” Nuff said.
And finally, what I consider his greatest role as Ron Kovic in the amazing film Born On The Fourth Of July. Cruise handled his part with Academy Award winning brilliance, hitting just the right notes throughout the entire movie.
There are many more, but I’d like to add just one cameo appearance in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Whatever one thinks of the movie (frankly, I loved it, as dumb and crazy as it was) Cruise’s moments on camera as a Hollywood producer simply stole the show. The memory of his bald head bobbing as he danced around his Los Angeles office is forever burned into my brain.
I’m not Pauline Kael, James Agee, or Roger Ebert, so to cement my case, let me list the directors who have chosen to cast him in their films.
Franco Zeffirelli (Endless Love, 1981)
Francis Ford Coppola (The Outsiders, 1983)
Ridley Scott (Legend, 1985)
Tony Scott (Top Gun, 1986)
Martin Scorsese (The Color Of Money, 1986)
Barry Levinson (Rain Man, 1988)
Oliver Stone (Born On The Fourth Of July, 1989)
Ron Howard (Far And Away, 1992)
Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men, 1992)
Sydney Pollack (The Firm, 1993)
Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, 1996)
Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, 2002)
Michael Mann (Collateral, 2004)
Robert Redford (Lions For Lambs, 2007)
I’m in some seriously good company.
When I showed this post to Sue, she quickly eyeballed my lists. “So?”
“‘So?’ What do you mean ‘so?’ Look at that list of directors. Look at the movies he’s been in!”
“He’s still shallow.”
I shook my head, searching for a comeback. All I could finally manage was, “but you’ll never forget him skidding across the floor only wearing BVDs in Risky Business, will you?”
Don’t forget Zach’s frequent consumer protection statement: I make stuff up. –Susan Goodman