The Ten Spot: Our Favorite Tom Cruise Performances
This weekend sees the release of Tom Cruise’s latest extravaganza, OBLIVION, a film many of us have been looking forward to ever since that awesome trailer came out in December. Just a few short months ago, Cruise’s JACK REACHER- which for my money was just an OK Cruise pic- did so-so business in North America, but was a huge hit overseas (to the tune of 200 million). What does this prove? Only that Cruise, after 30 years as a star, can still pull in huge crowds.
In an era where many stars have dimmed, Cruise, at 51, is still a megastar. He’s had his share of controversy over the years, but Cruise always bounces back and- most importantly- always delivers on the silver screen. At their worst, Cruise’s movies are fine (he has very few real bombs on his resume), but at their best, he’s consistent in a way few other actors of his stature have managed. He’s put together an amazing body of work over the years, and this is a list of my ten favorite Tom Cruise performances (with input from fellow Tom Cruise fan- Mr. JoBlo himself).
TROPIC THUNDER came along at a time when Cruise was suffering a big backlash from the infamous "couch jumping" incident, and his unfortunate interview with Matt Lauer. Playing the bald, bespectacled, and psychotic Len Grossman was a brilliant move. It's little more than a glorified cameo, but it's so "out there" that even Cruise's harshest critics couldn't help but admire him. A few years later, he even hosted the MTV Film awards in character. That was maybe a "little" much, but it's a great piece of performance art, and one of his rare stabs at full-on comedy
RAIN MAN is another movie where Cruise took a backseat to an older, more established co-star, and there's no denying that Dustin Hoffman dominates every frame he's in. But- as the selfish brother, newly in charge of his autistic, savant brother, Cruise is mighty impressive, and I'd wager his character here is like a pre-JERRY MAGUIRE, where the wheeling and dealing is forgotten once he's faced with responsibility.
THE LAST SAMURAI is an imperfect film, but when it works, it works damn well. As Nathan Algen, Cruise cuts a heroic figure, with the numerous sword fights and action scenes never overwhelming the drama. Cruise is excellent as the fallen warrior, who finds a true place for himself among the Samurai. The ending, where he walks away unscathed, is a bit of a cheat- but this is still a great film (the Hans Zimmer score is incredible) and Cruise is terrific.
EYES WIDE SHUT was an uncomfortably intimate movie to watch in 1999, with Cruise starring opposite his real life wife at the time, Nicole Kidman. Now- it's even more uncomfortable, with the two of them having gone through a messy divorce shortly after it wrapped. However, we shouldn't ignore the quality of Cruise's work here, with him adapting exceedingly well to Kubrick's style. It's not one of Kubrick's better films, but it's fascinating, and Cruise is excellent.
After TOP GUN, Cruise could have done any movie he wanted too, but he wisely took on a supporting part in Martin Scorsese's sequel to THE HUSTLER, THE COLOR OF MONEY. Playing a young pool shark taken under-the-wing by “Fast” Eddie Felson, Cruise isn't afraid to allow himself to be portrayed as a bit of a snot-nosed prick, or to take on backseat to Paul Newman, in an Academy Award winning performance (like RAIN MAN's Dustin Hoffman). The scene where dominates a pool hall while Warren Zevon's “Werewolf of London” plays in the background is a classic.
Neil Jordan's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is another ballsy choice by Cruise, who was at the peak of his stardom around the time this came out. The writer of the books, Anne Rice, was apparently against his casting, although she was won over when she saw the film. It's easy to see why, as Cruise sinks his teeth into Lestat and dominates the film, even when he's not on-screen. Co-star Brad Pitt, who would later evolve into a great actor in his own right, is blown away by Cruise during their scenes together, and Cruise seems to be having the time of his life. It's too bad they never made more films about Lestat starring Cruise, as he was a lot of fun in the part.
I've often wondered why Cruise has all but given up JERRY MAGUIRE style films in favor of tent-pole action movies. Not that I have a problem with Cruise doing action, but to me JERRY MAGUIRE and VANILLA SKY, both directed by Cameron Crowe, is Cruise at his best. Just think back to the famous “you complete me” scene. Could anyone else have pulled that off? Not a chance. I really wish Crowe and Cruise would re-team, as no one else seems to suit Crowe's material like Cruise. If ELIZABETHTOWN had been made twenty years ago, and starred Cruise rather than Orlando Bloom (not a bad actor, just totally unsuited to the part), it might be regarded a whole lot differently.
OK, so I imagine a lot of you are wondering why VALKYRIE is on this list. Granted, Cruise's performance as German Colonel von Stauffenberg, who led the failed plot to assassinate Hitler, is usually overlooked in favor of his scene-stealing, English co-stars, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Wilkinson. But, for me, Cruise is the one who walks away with the movie mostly due to the subtlety of his performance. Think about it, he's playing a one-eyed German Colonel who tried to kill Hitler. Most people would have played it way over the top, complete with a fake German accent. Cruise plays it much more subtle, and humanizes the character in a way I thought was unlikely when I first heard about the project. For me, it's one of his best movies and hugely underrated.
In 1999, Cruise had just spent two years making EYES WIDE SHUT with Stanley Kubrick, and by the time it hit theaters he had been off-screen for a full three years. That’s an eternity for a movie star. You’d think that Cruise’s first post-Kubrick movie would have been a blockbuster, but nope. Rather, Cruise, signed on for a supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s MAGNOLIA. Playing Frank “T.J” Mackey , a self-help guru (1-800-TAME-HER) who hides his own pain behind a mask of chauvinism, and swagger. Cruise is amazing, whether delivering one of Mackey’s incredibly foul monologues (a ballsy move considering that back then, Cruise’s primary fan base was women), or during his big breakdown opposite a dying Jason Robards, as the father who abandoned him. It’s an incredible performance in a film full of them.
While his turn in MAGNOLIA was definitely “against-type” casting, he’d never played a full-on (mortal) bad guy until Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL. A brilliant action-thriller, about a cabbie (Jamie Foxx) forced into chauffeuring a cold-blooded hit man around L.A, Cruise absolutely owns the film was the villainous Vincent. Right from the first scene, where Cruise gets a trade-off from Jason Statham (in a nifty cameo) it’s clear this is not your typical Cruise vehicle. Clad head-to-toe in gun-metal grey (right down to his dyed hair), any trace of the guy girls fell in love with in RISKY BUSINESS is gone within ten seconds. Cruise is superb as the sociopathic Vincent, as his chemistry with Foxx (making this a kind of gonzo buddy flick) is palpable. Hopefully, Cruise will re-team with Mann at some point, as I really think this stands as one of Cruise’s best all-around films. Mann made Cruise a very credible badass, and I think another cool, anti-hero role would be a good move from Cruise as he gets a little older.
In the wake of his success in TOP GUN, Cruise was still regarded as a pretty boy by many film critics. Sure, RAIN MAN and THE COLOR OF MONEY helped legitimatize him, but in both of those films he took a backseat to older, more established actors. 4TH OF JULY was all Cruise, playing paraplegic Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, in Oliver Stone’s follow-up to PLATOON. People may have been scoffed at his casting but once it hit theaters, it shut all of his critics up. Cruise was nominated for an Oscar, and it stands as some of his best work. He absolutely disappears into the part, playing Kovic from a clean-cut high-schooler turned Marine, to an embittered, paralyzed vet, to a man born again in his devotion to a cause that’s about more than the toll it took on his body. If you haven’t watched this in awhile, give it another shot.