The icon's Cruise
Tom Cruise has been trying to prove to his audiences, and to the Academy, which hasn't given him an Oscar yet, that he can act. UMA MAHADEVAN-DASGUPTA traces the career of the Hollywood star, whose ``Minority Report" has just been released.
Love him or hate him, but there's just no ignoring Tom Cruise.
EVEN THE name has a certain swagger to it. Just think of the fighter pilot Pete `Maverick' Mitchell in ``Top Gun," or Vincent, the flamboyant pool player in ``The Color of Money," or the young Navy lawyer in ``A Few Good Men," facing an icy-cold Jack Nicholson in open court. Cruise has been on People's list of the Most Beautiful People; he has been voted Best Dressed Actor. And now, for the second time in two decades, Tom Cruise is on the cover of Time magazine. All swagger and good looks, then? A Star Cruise? Or is there more than that to this man?
Ever since Stanley Kubrick's ``Eyes Wide Shut" in 1999, Tom Cruise has been trying to prove to his audiences, and to the Academy, which hasn't given him an Oscar yet, that he can act. Almost all his movies since then have been meant for the Oscar factory: the aggressive sex trainer in ``Magnolia"; the Man in the Latex Mask in ``Vanilla Sky"; and now, in ``Minority Report," an unhappy cop who becomes another disfigured face. No more eye candy. Except ``Mission Impossible II" and we all know why he made that. He made it to finance the other films. When Nicole Kidman appeared on the David Letterman show after the much-publicised break-up of her marriage with Tom Cruise last year, she remarked, with the radiant nonchalance that only celebrities can muster, that she could now wear high heels. And after the break-up, there has been increased tabloid speculation about his sexual leanings. But it takes more than that to dent the image of Tom Cruise, Hollywood icon extraordinaire. Cruise is now 40; he has some two decades of films acting and producing behind him; and he's on the screens again as top cop John Anderton in Steven Spielberg's new film ``Minority Report."
It isn't quite fashionable to like Tom Cruise. As they might say, with apologies to Ogden Nash eye candy is dandy, but De Niro is slicker. Or Tom Hanks. Or Denzel Washington. They all have their Oscars, while Cruise only has his nominations. But even Hollywood needs its own megastar, and Tom Cruise is the Hollywood version of Shah Rukh Khan, let's say. Hardworking, full of energy, and perfect for those action-hero roles.
So it was quite a coup for Cruise to land the role of Dr. Bill Harford, the central protagonist of Kubrick's ``Eyes Wide Shut." He has worked with directors as different as Scorcese and Cameron Crowe, Barry Levinson and Brian de Palma. And now, after two long decades, a Spielberg film. Although he didn't start out that way. He was born not on the fourth but the third of July, 1962, in Syracuse, New York, as Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, the child of restless parents who moved frequently. Tom went to 15 schools, and, not surprisingly, this disruptive routine contributed to his childhood dyslexia. At one point of time, he wanted to be a priest, and even attended a Franciscan seminary for a year.
In the 1980s, when his contemporaries were in school, Tom Cruise started out playing teen roles. In Paul Brickman's stylish teen satire ``Risky Business" (1983), he played a spoilt suburban teen haunted by his college entrance examinations: soon he was in dark glasses, prancing around in his underwear while his impossibly straight parents were away. This was where he met Rebecca de Mornay, with whom he had a live-in relationship before moving on to his first marriage with actress Mimi Rogers. It was during his marriage to Rogers that he was introduced to scientology, the faith founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard that believes in rational and scientific cures for ailments. In `Top Gun' (1986) he graduated to play macho, fighter pilot Pete `Maverick', whose aircraft would take off, every time, Jerry Bruckheimer style, to the sound of soaring pop music (``Take My Breath Away").
As the unhappy cop in ``Minority Report'', Cruise gives a subtle, refined performance.
In the same year, in Martin Scorcese's film ``The Color of Money," Cruise played Vincent, the too-cool pool player who becomes the protégé of the older, wheeling-dealing Fast Eddie (Paul Newman, who got his well-deserved, long-awaited Oscar). Surely working with Newman and Scorcese made the young actor realise that acting is more than just a sweaty romp with Kelly McGillis a la ``Top Gun''.
A range of roles followed. In Barry Levinson's ``Rain Man'' (1988), Cruise played the younger brother of the autistic Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Hoffman got an Oscar; Cruise got noticed. And Cruise got his own first Oscar nomination for Oliver Stone's 1989 film, ``Born on the Fourth of July" in which he played the antithesis of his jingoistic role in ``Top Gun" - Vietnam veteran and anti-war activist Ron Kovic, on the wheelchair. The film's success had more to do with Cruise's performance than with Stone's muddled directing. The early Nineties saw him in some unremarkable films. In ``Days of Thunder" (1990), he met his future wife Kidman; they were cast together again in Ron Howard's ``Far and Away" (1992), a film that was visually stunning, and stunningly clichéd. In Rob Reiner's ``A Few Good Men" (1992), he confronts the intimidating Jack Nicholson in the courtroom in an impressive finale that makes the film worthwhile. Another lawyer film, ``The Firm" (1993) based on John Grisham's novel, was directed by Sydney Pollack (who later played the good Doctor Harford's wealthy client in ``Eyes Wide Shut"). If he was seen as all-American, he could play a vampire, too: as in Neil Jordan's 1994 ``Interview with the Vampire." A performance that even left the author, Gothic cult novelist Anne Rice, impressed enough to retract her earlier criticisms of his casting in the role. It was Brian de Palma's 1996 ``Mission Impossible" that really made people realise that, love him or hate him, you couldn't ignore Tom Cruise.
Cruise's second Oscar nomination came not for MI, but for Cameron Crowe's fresh, funny and feel good venture ``Jerry Maguire" (1996), in which, not clad in tight black outfits a la MI, he plays a nice guy in days when it's not smart to be nice. And then came ``Eyes Wide Shut." Cruise has spoken of how important the Kubrick experience was for both him and wife Kidman, who played his wife Alice in the film: ``We knew from the beginning the level of commitment needed. We knew it would be difficult. But I would have absolutely kicked myself if I hadn't done this," he has said.
The film, a haunting exploration of a couple's infidelities, real and imagined, elicits impeccable performances from Cruise and Kidman.
In Paul Thomas Anderson's riveting 1999 enterprise, ``Magnolia," Cruise stretched his talents further, playing the estranged son of a television producer who is dying painfully in the same city.
But the Academy only gave him a nomination; it was the year of that pretentious and supremely vacuous enterprise, ``American Beauty."
If MI2 came in 2000, the year 2001 brought another Cameron Crowe effort: ``Vanilla Sky," a futuristic film about the young and fabulously wealthy heir of a publishing house.
Why did Cameron Crowe make this film? The film opens with a shot of empty streets, vaguely reminiscent of ``Eyes Wide Shut." Thereafter, it muddles and meanders into the flashback, flash forward mode until our heads are reeling. It's all very well to put Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz into the film, but a disfigured Cruise isn't even eye candy.
And now, ``Minority Report." In his first Spielberg role, Cruise plays detective John Anderton, a man haunted by the loss of his son who went missing one day at the public pool.
Determined that he should do all he can to prevent crime, Anderton becomes a part of Precrime, a new initiative to prevent murders, even before they happen. Precrime works by tapping into the nightmare `previsions' of three Precogs who float in a pool with electrodes attached to their scalps. Unfortunately, ``Minority Report" is not much more than Spielberg's version of ``The Matrix" - more effects than emotion.
For MI fans, there's good news... MI-3 is in the pipeline.
It's got some great lines, and some interesting effects, but all rinsed through with blue, just as the future is rosy. It has, in fact, watered down the future, making it look, ultimately, like a cosy fantasy wrapped in a Spielberg film.
The best thing in the film is a subtle, restrained performance from Cruise.
Meanwhile, it's time for those action roles again. Ethan Hunt returns in Mission Impossible 3. And in ``The Last Samurai," a period film set in Japan, he plays an American mercenary. And now could you pass the popcorn, please.
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