“To do my job,” muses Ben Stiller as Tom Cruise’s stunt double Tom Crooze in a video made for the 2000 MTV Movie Awards, “I have to ask myself: Who is Tom Cruise? What is Tom Cruise? Why is Tom… Cruise?”
This is a tricky question.
On screen, as New York Times reporter Nicole Sperling recently declared, Cruise is unmistakably our biggest movie star – the last true exponent of a centuries-old studio system that has been steadily undermined by the emerging forces of franchise filmmaking and streaming. His powerful charisma and daring stunt work have once again combined in his latest hit Top Gun: Maverick, which broke the $1 billion mark.
Off-screen, Cruise is elusive. He’s the frequent public mouthpiece for a cryptic, controversial religion that seems harder to understand the more he talks about it. He is strictly reserved about the details of his private life. Even if he occasionally tries to seem like a regular, relatable guy, he ends up sounding like an AI approximation of you. When asked by Moviebill magazine to describe his most memorable movie experience, Cruise couldn’t name one. (“I love movies,” he said casually.) When asked which team he was cheering for a Giants-Dodgers game he attended last fallhe answered, “I’m a fan of baseball.”
It can be difficult to reconcile these different sides. So it’s worth pondering the question: Who is Tom Cruise?
Much of his early success as an actor in the ’80s and ’90s stemmed from a certain down-to-earth charm. The souped-up, troubled young Cruise from “Risky Business”; the innocent, endearingly naïve Cruise of “Cocktail”; and the hard-bitten, morally principled Cruise of “Jerry Maguire” each relied on his ability to convincingly portray the American Everyman, the likable heartthrob that audiences could covet or cheer for. Around the turn of the century, he complicated that image by appearing in more sophisticated, less accessible films like Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia. Writers such as Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson helped present Cruise as a serious actor capable of delivering subtle, nuanced performances.
Top Gun: The Return of Maverick
Tom Cruise takes to the skies once again in Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited sequel to a popular ’80s action blockbuster.
- A triumphant return: At a time when superheroes dominate the box office, the movie industry is banking on the daredevil actor to bring the grown-ups back to theaters. It paid off.
- review: Our critic writes that the film’s central question has less to do with the need for fighter pilots in the age of drones than with the relevance of movie stars.
- Your burning questions: How similar is it to the original? who is back Who is missing? We have answers.
- Anatomy of a Scene: The film’s director, Joseph Kosinski, on the making of a key scene in Top Gun: Maverick.
He has moved away from romance, drama and the independent art house. Over the past decade, he’s firmly established himself in the action-adventure genre, perfecting the summer tentpole blockbuster. His performances typically emphasize his easy-going charisma and powerful athleticism, but Cruise still brings to these roles a touch of the same delicate charm and acting nuance of his dramatic fare. You see it in the breezy, naturalistic chemistry he shares with Jennifer Connelly on Maverick, and in the jaded, world-weary intensity he’s carried through the last two Mission: Impossible sequels. My last Cruise performance came from the underrated Edge of Tomorrow (2014), in which he plays a cowardly, self-pitying politician who is forced to relive the same deadly struggle over and over again — a playful sci-fi take on “Groundhog Day”. that the actor played against the type to delightful effect.
But that’s just one part of the story. One of the defining characteristics of the last decade of his career is a quality control for which he is primarily responsible. It’s not that he couldn’t make a bad movie: The Mummy (2017), Universal’s failed attempt to launch an entire Dark Universe with big-budget creature features, did clear. But recent Cruise films share a level of ambition and enthusiasm that’s rare in today’s blockbuster landscape, and when it all works, that effort pays off hugely. You won’t see Cruise calling in a performance. You get the feeling he treats every film these days like it’s the most important he’s ever made.
The results of this engagement almost feel like a miracle. How could anyone have expected that Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel to a 35-year-old action film with a pretty cool reputation among critics, would not only be vastly superior to the original film, but also be one of the best action films out there in many years? But then you read of Cruise’s dogged insistence on keeping everything as real as possible – he demands a minimum of computer-generated effects, forces himself through arduous flight training, and encourages his co-stars to endure G-Force speeds until they’re comfortable literally handed over. Some of Cruise’s co-stars over the years have characterized his obsession as extreme, to the point of what sounds like cinematic despotism, and it’s true that doing much of it in front of a green screen would probably be easier and cheaper. But that’s not Cruise. When it comes to this stuff, he cares too much.
Mission: Impossible was a sophisticated spy film directed by Brian De Palma and based on a 1960s television series. How is it possible that there were five sequels, and how is it? conceivable that the sequels just keep getting better and better, culminating in Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) being pretty much an unqualified masterpiece? (The final two parts, “Dead Reckoning Part One” and “Dead Reckoning Part Two,” are due in 2023 and 2024, respectively.) Again, credit should primarily go to Cruise, who, for our entertainment, will happily climb the tallest building in the world, Hold your breath for six and a half minutes or jump out of a plane with the cameraman.
But Cruise’s dedication to cinema runs deeper, if that’s possible. It’s a dedication to the movies with a capital M. While A-list talent is flocking to big-buck streamers with blockbuster aspirations, Cruise is adamant he won’t be making a film for Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. refuse to negotiate on the possibility of a VOD premiere for “Maverick” at the beginning of the pandemic. (“I make films for the big screen,” he explained.) His interest in preserving that traditional cinematic experience shines through in the colossal scale of the productions themselves, making it feel like Cruise is transcending in immense Imax dimensions Every little bit appears to you as big as the picture. It’s a reminder that so much of what we see is tailored for the streaming era – a mass of “content” designed to play on both a phone and the big screen be able. For those of us who still care about cinema and fear for its future, Cruise’s efforts are invaluable.
It’s also a reminder of why we go to the cinema to see Tom Cruise films – to see Tom Cruise himself. We can still be lured into the movies by the names on the marquee, but as franchisees have become the dominant force in the business, the credibility of those names has diminished. The superiority of proven, bankable intellectual property over the traditional star system has led us to seek out Spider-Man, Thor, and Captain America rather than Tom Holland, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans; The caped actor is more interchangeable than ever. In Cruise films, this relationship is reversed. Anyone particularly interested in the adventures of Ethan Hunt? (That’s his character’s name in Mission: Impossible, in case you’ve forgotten.) Hunt is just another name for the man we really care about: Cruise, plain and simple.
Cruise has all the qualities you’d want in a movie star, but none of the qualities you’d expect in a human being. As a screen presence, he is unique; As a person he is unfathomable. But it’s his inscrutability that has allowed him to become the kind of clear-cut, flawless superstar who exists almost exclusively in the movies, unsullied by worldly concerns. Cruise the Star burns as brightly as any of his contemporaries and far brighter than any that have come along since, partly because he’s pouring more and more of himself into his work and giving up less and less of himself everywhere else. Who is he? You have to watch the movies to find out.