Tom Cruise: The Film Dossier

Psycho! Xenu-worshipping weirdo! Control freak! Nut-job! One-dimensional actor! Ignoramus! Tool!  yada yada yada…  You could spend days reading all the hateful things people have said about Tom Cruise.  I’m not going to waste my time discussing any of that because this isn’t a dissertation on Cruise’s personal life – it’s a dossier of his career as a filmmaker. Say what you will, Tom Cruise is the last truly global movie star.

With Cruise’s equally acclaimed and criticized performance as rocker Stacey Jaxx in the musical Rock of Ages receiving a lot of buzz this past week, I’ve decided to use this space to look back at the man’s career in this week’s edition of the film dossier.

Known worldwide for his intensity, classic all-American good looks and iconic smile, Tom Cruise has been a staple of the Hollywood scene for little over three decades. Quite impressive when you consider that most of his peers – guys like Nicholas Cage, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Alec Baldwin, and even Charlie Sheen, have all either eroded their reputations with garbage or have migrated to safer pastures on television.

Even if his star isn’t as bright as it used to be during his heyday in the 90s, Cruise’s worldwide popularity is still unrivaled; Johnny Depp and “Mr. Box Office” Will Smith can’t claim that.  In a time when franchises front-lined by mop-headed vampires and CGI-superheroes rule supreme, that’s something that demands respect.

He may be a box office titan but it’s astonishing how underrated Cruise is as an actor.  Though he’s notched up three supremely well-deserved Oscar nominations (Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia), he’s still constantly criticized for being an average performer who coasts by on his good looks and predictable characters. Even if there used to be some merit to the later point, it’s been an irrelevant argument for at least 20 years.

Arguing that the cocky grinning jock seen in Top Gun and Cocktail to the wounded, complex men in Minority Report and The Last Samurai is akin to saying a bottle of Heineken has the same effect as a shot of Bourbon.  Even when he does resurrect the cocky persona nowadays, it’s either played for laughs like in Tropic Thunder or as an extremely dark and sinister version of it – like in his riveting, bravura work in Magnolia.

One thing I’ll give his critics is the over-the-top seriousness and intensity Cruise brings to his roles often make his characters predictable – and not as interesting.  But you can make a similar argument for any major star (see: Denzel Washington, George Clooney).

Though his off-camera exploits have hurt his reputation as a box office magnet (Valkyrie, Lions for Lambs and Knight and Day were all box office disappointments), the massive success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and his widely loved supporting turn as the over-weight and foul-mouthed studio head in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder have illustrated that he’s willing to have fun and play with his ultra-serious image. With the promising Jack Reacher and Oblivion on the near horizon, the future’s looking bright for Cruise.

Ultimately, the industry depends on guys like Cruise to sell their products worldwide because, in the end, Hollywood is a business and Cruise is one of their err… top guns. His ability to pick interesting projects and penchant for collaborating with the very best in the business are two of the primary reasons why he’s still such a popular performer.


  • Age: 50
  • Films: 34
  • Oscar nods: 3 (Best Actor – Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996); Best Supporting Actor – Magnolia (1999))
  • Highest Grossing Film: War of the Worlds (2005)
  • Debut Feature: Endless Love (1981)
  • Latest Feature: Rock of Ages (2012)


Top Gun (1986): “I feel the need, the need for speed!” Yea, it’s dumb but it’s also a hell of a good time! Cruise’s performance as Maverick is hardly his best but it was the performance that gave birth to the cocky, charismatic, grinning-like-an-idiot on-screen persona – something that made him a superstar.

Rain Man (1988): Dustin Hoffman deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of autistic Raymond in Barry Levinson’s touching Oscar-winning road-drama. However, Cruise’s performance as the cold and calculating Charlie, who transforms from an arrogant prick to a caring and loving younger brother, was the far superior work.

Jerry Maguire (1996): Cameron Crowe’s dazzling crowd-pleaser is in equal measures one of the best sports movies and romantic comedies of all time – and a lot of its success is owed to Cruise’s superb performance as the eponymous sports agent that’s tragic, hilarious, insane, touching and outrageous, all at the same time.  It captured Cruise at his prime and will remain the defining role of his career.

Magnolia (1999): Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark ensemble drama featured a bouquet of great performances but none as electric as Cruise’s riveting, bravura against-type, and career-best work as chauvinistic larger-than-life self-help guru Frank T.J. Mackey.

Minority Report (2002): Cruise’s first collaboration with Steven Spielberg was a vastly entertaining neo noir thriller that transcended its genre conventions to become a career highlight for both men. Cruise’s performance as a deeply disturbed drug-addicted detective accused of a future murder wasn’t by any means a stretch for the actor after Magnolia and Mission: Impossible but it was nonetheless an appealing work.

Collateral (2004): He may have played characters with malicious intentions previously (Interview with the Vampire, Magnolia) but Cruise’s performance as Vincent, the emotionless, remorseless contract killer terrorizing Jamie Foxx and a collection of some very unlucky folks in Michael Mann’s icy thriller was the first where he played a truly vile human being. And man, did he deliver!


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