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 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

20 thoughts on “CRUISE’N: WITHOUT THE ‘N

  1. Not just your better half, Susan is also smarter, more perceptive with a keen eye/ear for shallowness. You, OTOH, might be projecting just a bit?

    I’ve liked a few movies that he has appeared in, but it was not his performance that made the movie. If anything, the mass hysteria surrounding his celebrity makes it more difficult to see a Tom Cruise movie as anything but a vehicle for his “talent”.
    Producers/Directors are a more pragmatic lot. Casting Cruise in their lead isn’t always about the story.
    You omitted The Last Samurai from your litany?

    Bottom line: Sue Rocks!

    • Bill–Although I understand that it’s often difficult to tease out an actor’s ability from his or her celebrity status, I don’t have that problem with Cruise. For me, the difficulty is really good work gets mixed up with his more recent career choices. But, as I suggest in the post, one solid look at a number of movies I mentioned, exhibits his significant talent.

      I’m not sure why I left out The Last Samurai other than I don’t really remember it and didn’t recognize the director’s name. And yeah, Sue does rock–she’s just wrong about this.

  2. Hurray for Susan!!! I’m on her side completely.

    Cruise was great in Tropic Thunder, but Robert Downey, Jr. was right about Dustin Hoffman:

    Kirk Lazarus: You’re serious? You don’t know? Everybody knows you never go full retard.
    Tugg Speedman: What do you mean?
    Kirk Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, “Rain Man”, looked retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Count toothpicks, cheat at cards. Autistic, sure. Not retarded. Then you got Tom Hanks, “Forrest Gump”. Slow, yes, retarded, maybe, braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon, and he won a Ping-Pong competition. That ain’t retarded. Peter Sellers, “Being There”, infantile? Yes. Retarded? No. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam”. Remember? Went full retard? Went home empty-handed.

    • Harry–what’s new about your being on Sue’s side. You’re both wrong. I do like your quote but if you re-watch Rain Man I think you’ll find that Cruise was extraordinary in his performance.

  3. Great article, and obviously right up my alley! First off two of Cruise’s best performances ever were left out here – his Oscar nominated role as the “how-to-score” motivational speaker in Magnolia (1999), and of course his surprising performance as a sociopath super-assassin in Collateral (2004). To that end, you’ve left out two of my all-time favorite directors from your list in Stanley Kubrick (although you do mention Eyes Wide Shut and I agree, he’s not that great in it), and P.T. Anderson for Magnolia.

    At the end of the day, I think Cruise is an undeniable talent, one of those actors who – like Brad Pitt or even Val Kilmer – started off as a punchline until they began racking up great performances and put the critics to rest. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that when cast in the right role, Cruise can be one of the bigger impact castings in Hollywood. To Sue’s credit though, he probably shouldn’t be held in the same regard as actors who have been crushing it for their entire careers. He’s like a really good DH, outstanding at a few things, but not the all-around talent of guys like Daniel Day Lewis, Johnny Depp or Sue’s golden-boy Dustin Hoffman.

    Thanks for the great read!

    • Sam–you’re right and I regret the omissions. I do disagree about the regard he should be held in. I think his best work matches those who you mention. Problem is, as Bill pointed out, is that most people see his celebrity then write off his talent. A real shame.

      Thanks for dropping in and commenting. Hope to see you here more often.

  4. Funny debate! I lean toward’s Sue’s POV. Cruise is one-dimensional. To me, he has no “edge,” which means he has a pretty face (and actually, not all that pretty) but nothing beneath the surface that intrigues, confounds, or otherwise interests me. But that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying a Tom Cruise movie, particularly “Minority Report,” “Mission Impossible,” and “Rainman.” Kevin Costner and Robert Redford are two other pretty boys that don’t “do it for me,” as they say (though Kevin Costner was amazing in “Mr Brooks”!). It’s very subjective….

  5. If Cuise wasn’t so good looking I think he’d be just another actor, little bit above average. It was his looks that made his star take off. Hoffman, Deniro, Pacino he ain’t. I’m not a big fan, but I wind up watching his movies. From what I can tell, Reacher was a quick payday. Just sayin…..

  6. I’d have to go 80% with Sue, 20% with you on Cruise. He was born to play “Top Gun.” At various air shows around the country I’ve talked to military pilots, including a few of the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and a couple of the Navy’s Blue Angels. They’re all cocky, intelligent, good-looking, and can fly a washing machine if need be. Cruise fit the part perfectly. It’s hard to tell if he was playing one of them or if they’re all trying to play him.

    I agree he deserves a tip o’ the hat for “A Few Good Men.” He wasn’t bad in that, and like you said he deserves at least a cold beer for standing in the same room with Jack Nicholson bellowing at him.

    “The Last Samurai” is the odd one in my book. In some scenes he’s a winner, in others he’s just Tom Cruise. In a few scenes he showed he was capable of playing an introspective character, although that may have been merely an accident on his part.

    But I need to side with Sue for the rest of his movies which I have seen. He often seems to broadcast the idea that he knows he’s on camera, an actor with lines to say, and fails to convince me he’s really the character he’s playing. For the majority of their individual roles, Gabby Hayes was more convincing.

    If Cruise would take my advice (okay everyone, stop laughing) I’d have him choose his roles more carefully. He needs to break the mold that’s cast around him. He needs a “Philadelphia,” he needs to play someone vulnerable, a tear-jerker role if you will. Maybe then we’d see more of what he gave us in mere moments during “Samurai.”

    Or better yet, just let Sue pick the movies.


    • Kent–I agree with you about some of his career choices, but I’ll suggest you watch The Color Of Money and, lke I’ve suggested to others, Born On The Fourth Of July. Meets all the criteria you suggest. Also Rain Man and tell me Hoffman deserved the reward. I’m actually surprised about how many people perceive him as less than he is. I imagine that for many people his celebrity gets in the way.

  7. sorry, i’m with Sue 100%! for example, i thought mission impossible–a mess of a movie as it was–was even more marred by cruise’s lack of screen presence. i don’t even think he’s good looking. ugh!
    i have to confess i’ve never seen top gun and suspect that i never will.

  8. I do not know movies as well as others who left comments, but

    1 great column
    2 cruise was in preview I saw a few days ago. When I see him, I usually, and in this instance, dismiss movie as shallow
    3 I think the moment leaving movie is magic and fraught w danger. Seeing film in theatre where the mind is free to wander in the dark cave opens deep feelings. Two people (really any more than one person) seeing film together are likely to have deep feelings and they frequently are not the same as other viewers and just as. Frequently, not so much based on film but on the disparate feelings set loose. So, as you can guess I have had heated arguments with co-viewers of film
    4 another wired feeling. I saw the movie about torture and was not offended. Movie did not say to me that torture either works or is ok. It seemed to say it “is” which horrifies me but seems to be true. People clapped after movie. Even tho I thought movie was pretty good, I had no idea why people clapped and I was put off

    • Ron–Thanks for the compliment. I think a lot of people are put off by Cruise’s celebrity and many of his career choices. My argument is preety simple–look past the shit cause there’s diamonds there. And what you said about films and feelings strikes me as very true.

  9. Ha ha ha!

    Tom Cruise is an actor that constantly plays “himself”, just like Jack, Clint, William Shatner and myself. Hey there is nothing wrong with that and he is pretty good at it. Mrs. Stevens and I caught a movie with him and Cameron Diaz not to long ago and enjoyed the snot out of it, so there is nothing wrong with liking Tom Cruise.

    As for him deserving the Oscar for “Rainman” I can’t disagree with you, but they seem to give that trophy to anyone in particular now a days anyway. It is about what they call “art” I guess.

    What am I talking about? My favorite actor is William Shatner!

    • Don–I’m afraid we disagree about Cruise only playing Cruise–though I’d agree with that if we were only to look at his action movies. But, if you watch Rain Man, The Color Of Money, Born On The Fourth Of July, and others, I think you’ll find an actor who can really act. Hey, Shatner is a hoot.

  10. Would you be okay with my giving your quote to my ESL students – the one about “..the muse in their head….and writing the movie in my mind…” ? [Re: the ensemble…etc.] That part.

    Thanks…just let me know.

    T-Dogg/Gretchen’s sistah

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