Matthew Lee on his respect for Tom Cruise…
Since 2006, Tom Cruise has been reduced to, for lack of a better phrase, a global joke; a quick source for derision, slander, and mockery among the A-List Hollywood performers for the masses to prod at. There was his Jumping the Couch moment on Oprah, the uncomfortable Scientology interview, his termination with Paramount studios, and M:i:III underperforming at the box office. In short, 2006 was not a good year for the iconic A-Lister.
Despite such set-backs Cruise still produces and stars in critically and financially successful movies, which proves his presence in Hollywood is unscathed. One needs only to look at 2011’s Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which would become Cruise’s highest grossing film to date, or the last few films that have received critical acclaim i.e. Edge of Tomorrow. Further, when one looks at Cruise’s career, one gets a sense that he is an incredibly dedicated actor who understands the importance, the craft, and the ethos in producing memorable and noteworthy films.
The Mission Impossible series was an early example of what Marvel would later adopt, and mature, through the process of building a film series under the guise of different directors. Each M:I film has its own aesthetics, visual style, and narrative trajectory, whilst under the M:I umbrella; the first, under Brian De Palma, was psychologically driven, the second, under John Woo, was melodramatic and bombastic, the third, under J. J. Abrams, was shaky-cam in the post-Bourne-era, the fourth, under Brad Bird, was tongue-in-cheek, and the recent, under Christopher McQuarrie, has elaborate action set pieces. Cruise, as producer for all films, allows their style to flourish whilst maintaining a familiarity across the series.
As one can see in the above list, Cruise sees potential and allows their talents to shine to a mass audience; M:i:III was Abrams’ directorial debut, and Ghost Protocol was Bird’s live-action debut. Abrams has since brought Star Trek back into theatres to much acclaim, and is reviving the Star Wars saga to, possibly, their former glory. Had Cruise not recruited Abrams to the director’s chair, Abrams may still only be working in television.
Moving away from Mission Impossible, Cruise’s impact can be seen elsewhere. Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, The Kingsman) was interviewed on Mark Kermode’s radio series The Business of Film, whereby he reveals that Cruise saved Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. He notes that many distributors didn’t want to buy the film, until Cruise took some interest, which started a bidding war. The success of this film launched Vaughn’s, Guy Ritchie’s, and Jason Statham’s careers. Cruise also helped Nicole Kidman’s career after Days of Thunder, Cameron Crowe’s after Jerry Maguire (it’s easy to forget, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything weren’t huge successes, and have grown in retrospect to become cult favourites), he brought Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes) with his American debut The Others, and actress Carice van Houlten (Game of Thrones) after casting her as his wife in Valkyrie following her performance in Black Book. As one can see, Cruise does more than make great of his own films, but is able to branch talent outward into other fields in the Hollywood machine.
Cruise’s ethos during his own films reflects a man who understands the staying power of cinema, and the importance to push oneself for the perfect shot. Unlike many of his contemporaries, like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Bruce Willis, he hasn’t allowed fame, age, or comfort to be at the detriment of his movies. For instance, he performs his own stunts in all of his films, which have, at times, been death-defying; in Rogue Nation he was harnessed onto the outside of the plane and was launched 5000 feet into the air, in Mission Impossible II, he requested an actual blade to stop two inches from his eye, and in Jack Reacher he performed all those car stunts. This is from an actor who started in lead dramatic roles like The Firm and Born on the Fourth of July, and has now omitted the stunt-double protocol for the perfect shot in his movies. Cruise understands audiences react positively when it is their lead that is placed in peril, and not a lookalike. This tension to respective set pieces shows a level of respect he has to film fans.
The preparation for his roles extend beyond placing himself in danger. For Michael Mann’s Collateral, Cruise portrays experienced hitman Vincent, and for him to get into character he underwent extensive weapons training. Furthermore, to omit the A-List persona, he went incognito as an UPS courier in a busy marketplace. Unlike his contemporaries like Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, and Matthew McConaughey who transform oneself for Oscar gold, Cruise conversely did this to produce a quality movie (Collateral is a summer flick, not an Oscar-baiting picture).
This status he has acquired over his career has led him to make some interesting quasi-meta choices. Following the disastrous Lions for the Lambs (yeah, don’t worry, nobody remembers it!), Cruise’s career was in jeopardy, and his reputation as an arrogant tyrant in Hollywood grew to bombastic proportions. How does one tackle these rumours and prevent further damage to one’s own reputation? Simply aggrandise them into a grotesque, self-deprecating form for the world to behold; Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder was of his own creation. This then plummets to the ludicrous for audiences to chuckle at, and conveys Cruise’s awareness of his cartoon-like villainous reputation.
Edge of Tomorrow (the most overlooked summer blockbuster of last year) evolves the meta into a complex space. This Rich Hall sketch wonderfully summarises Cruise’s narrative trajectory, but if you didn’t click on the link, I’ll briefly summarise: Cruise is the greatest [pilot/sports agent/bartender], but then is not due to [problem]. Cruise then must prove he’s the greatest [pilot/sports agent/bartender] to become once again the greatest [pilot/sports agent/bartender], with the aid of female love-interest/friend. In Edge of Tomorrow, his character’s narrative trajectory is subverted; he’s a coward who must find courage by repeating the same scenario in order to save the world. This is clearly a conscious decision, for his Japanese counterpart in the original source material is a formidable soldier who comes into his own through this repetition; the irony from this is that the source material is of the same ilk of his prior roles. Edge of Tomorrow’s narrative does a complete 180 on Cruise role-types, and gives attentive Cruise fans a large Easter Egg.
Tom Cruise has contributed plenty to popular cinema, his own ethos is significantly a step above many of his contemporaries, and his self-awareness as an iconic mega-star has landed him in interesting, and complex roles. I for one greatly respect this particular A-Lister who knows where he is in contemporary Hollywood, but does so with professionalism for the craft, and respect for audiences.