In the atrocious Interview with the Vampire the effete Tom Cruise tells his supernatural buddy Brad Pitt: “Life without me would be even more unbearable.”
Well, kids, whaddya reckon?
Is Our Tom telling the truth? Can you imagine your existence sans Maverick or never having witnessed all those heroic dashes with his choppy hands? No Cruiser battling aliens, taking a card-counting autistic savant to the casino or being ever so slightly undersized in Jack Reacher… Is this a universe you want to consider being part of for even a second? Or do you pray to the gods for a brutal, Orwellian-like maneuver to have his overpaid, overexposed Scientologist ass abruptly removed from the flow of history?
Whatever you think, this guy is hard to escape, having clocked up more than forty flicks over the last four decades and kicking box office butt with most of them. I could trot out some of the astounding stats surrounding his barely believable career, but that’s not really my style. Let’s just agree that when it comes to settling back with a couple of honeys for some movie action, you’re gonna bump into this divisive imp sooner or later.
Risky Business (1983)
Sometimes you can pinpoint the instant a star is born.
With Cruise, look no further than the scene in which he celebrates his stuffy parents leaving him home alone by dancing in his underpants to Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll.
But the well written, sleekly shot Risky Business is so much more than an iconic moment. It features a great supporting cast, a memorable soundtrack, and killer dialogue (“Who’s the U-Boat commander?”) It also has a lot to say about dark entrepreneurial forces. Money (and the emphasis on making it) runs through everything whether it’s school, friendship, dating, conversation, plans or sex.
Joel Goodson (Cruise) is one fuck of a privileged teen, but still likable. His ‘problems’ include unresolved horniness, pressure to get into an Ivy League school, and a pair of anal, faintly awful parents. When they push off for a few days, a mate tells him: “Every now and then say what the fuck. What the fuck gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.”
He then jokingly arranges for a hooker to visit Joel, which leads to a complicated relationship with Lana (the excellent Rebecca De Mornay). Before long he’s been convinced to transform his up market home into a brothel while nursing a growing infatuation for his $300 a night lay.
“It was great the way her mind worked,” he muses. “No guilt, no doubts, no fear. None of my specialties. Just this shameless pursuit of material gratification.”
This is a funny, well-paced and exceptionally well cast movie. All the telling details are in place to create a believable world. The twenty-year-old Cruise shows fantastic range as Joel whether he’s using his dad’s electric razor to shave a solitary chin hair, naively dealing with choo choo-loving hookers, eating ice cream while stoned, playing the dutiful son, giving the old man’s Porsche an impromptu wash or gradually losing his innocence.
Top Gun (1986)
Risky Business was his breakout role, but this is the one that blasted him into the gay stratosphere.
Is Top Gun cheesy jingoistic bollocks? Oh, my God, yes, but it remains a quintessential 80s movie and the Cruiser role.
He’s perfectly cast here and so in love with himself that his narcissism rivals Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero. Still, there’s no better movie in which to appreciate the dazzle of the man’s star appeal. Just look at him gliding along the sunset streets on his big fuck off motorbike in his Aviator sunnies, patch-studded brown bomber jacket, crisp white T-shirt and blue jeans. No wonder that trademark grin is already in place.
Twenty-three years old and the world at his feet.
Cruise plays Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a fighter pilot with daddy issues who wants to show he’s the best of the best at Naval Fighter Weapons School aka Top Gun. To get into this prestigious place, you must be a) supremely cocky b) a latent or practicing homosexual or c) have a cool one-word nickname like Cougar or Wolfman that can fit onto the front of your helmet and certainly not be something longwinded or silly like Hunky Fancy Pants.
Mitchell’s best mate (and ‘only family’) is Goose, played by ER’s Anthony Edwards. Goose sports a lovely fluffy tash which, I believe, has been intricately woven from the downy bum hair of numerous male conquests.
Mitchell also meets and woos the world’s least convincing civilian aviation instructor in the form of Kelly McGillis. Apparently she has a PhD in Astrophysics and top-level Pentagon clearance. Stop laughing. What’s even funnier is that despite not being able to fly (let alone having any actual combat experience), her every ridiculous word is hung onto by her macho, cocksure students. Luckily for Mitchell she’s into short guys who can’t sing so they get it on, their moodily lit lovemaking accompanied by Berlin’s tacky warbling.
The dialogue’s a treat throughout, usually falling into the categories of unintentionally funny, gay or expositionary. For example, after Maverick’s just sneakily bested an aviator in a dogfight, the defeated guy moans: “He’s a wild card. He flies by the seat of his pants. Totally unpredictable.” Yeah, who would’ve thunk it given he’s got the word Maver-fucking-rick stenciled on his head?
And then there’s the gay stuff, like the heavy gazes between Mitchell and Iceman (Val Kilmer), interspersed with furtive, almost shy smiles. The sexual tension is palpable with virtually every one of their exchanges dripping with disguised lust as they posture in the locker room with their fluffy white towels precariously wrapped around their chiseled abs. Elsewhere grown men blurt out things like “I’d like to bust your butt” and “I feel the need, the need for… sperm.” All right, I may have doctored that last one, but it always surprises me that Top Gun’s planes aren’t dick-shaped.
My piss-taking might suggest I don’t care for this iconic, pro-military blockbuster, but nothing could be further from the truth. Its impressive aerial photography hasn’t dated a jot while it’s tricky not to have a soft spot for that craptastic soundtrack. In short, Top Gun is a ludicrous, endlessly watchable popcorn flick and one of the biggest hits of Cruise’s astonishing career.
The Color of Money (1986)
You still don’t get the Cruiser? You want more evidence this guy is among the last of a dying breed known as Genuine Movie Stars?
Look at his Vincent Lauria. Savor the pool hall scene in which he whips a town’s best player with his electric showboating in front of mesmerized onlookers. Here he busts out his full array of moves to the fantastic Werewolves of London, strutting and dancing around the table like the white offspring of Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee. Sure, he stops short of setting fire to his beloved Balabushka cue, but otherwise he’s twirling it like a magician or wielding it like nunchucks.
This is a man going places. Indeed, Vincent is master of his domain. And yes, I do mean that in the Seinfeld sense because he’s most definitely a bit of a wanker, too.
Following the $350m success of Top Bum, 1986 turned into one of Cruise’s best years when he slipped ‘doom’ into a cue case and starred alongside screen legend Paul Newman in this well-received sequel to the superior Hustler.
Newman returns in Oscar-winning form as Fast Eddie Felson, first becoming aware of Vincent’s presence in a bar when he hears him smash open the pack. “Kid’s got a sledgehammer break,” he mutters, quickly recognizing a ‘thoroughbred’ and taking him under his wing. His eyes are open, though. He knows Vincent is an ‘incredible flake’ with his rather silly quiff, gay earring and cocky persona, but that’s his money-making appeal. Guys will line up all day long to try to put such a windup merchant in his place.
Once on the road, Vincent chafes at the student-master relationship, although there’s probably a bit of father-figure stuff going on, too. Vincent has to learn that sometimes you must lose to win, which is not easy when you’re the hotheaded, jealous type.
“It’s just a game, man,” he tells Eddie. “Balls and a stick.” But Vincent’s lousy at fooling people and trying to play things cool. Nine-ball is his calling, his fucking destiny.
Cruise gives a convincing, animated performance, obviously having put in the hours of practice on the pool table. He easily holds his own against the vastly experienced Newman and there’s a sense he’s already become comfortable in the big time. Or as Fast Eddie says: “Look at that kid. He gets to have all the fun.”
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
This is the one in which a wheelchair-bound, mustachioed Tom Cruise drunkenly bawls: “Penis! Big fucking erect penis, mom!”
In other words, Tom Boy is out of his comfort zone. The trademark grin doesn’t feature. He’s no longer a shiny ponce playing video games in the sky with hi-tech aircraft or some brash pool shark potting balls without even looking at the table. Now he’s a broken Vietnam vet lying in his own shit staring at the stump of a broken femur poking through his thigh.
Perhaps Cruise tired of playing flashy characters. Perhaps he was irked by the sniping that he was all gleaming surface and no grit. Still, it’s not as if he needed to shake things up. Both 1988’s Cocktail, in which he twirled a cocktail shaker to markedly less effect than a cue, and Rain Man, in which he played yet another arrogant fucker, were massive hits.
But this so-called one-trick pony made his move for heavyweight acting credibility by taking on the role of Ron Kovic in Oliver’s Stone’s compelling, well-paced pic. The teenage Kovic is the archetypal all-American boy, playing baseball or dancing with his childhood sweetheart at the prom. He comes from a Christian family, wholeheartedly believes in the world-threatening advance of communism, and wants to serve his country. “It’s a chance to do something,” he tells his skeptical mates. “To be part of history.”
But things don’t go to plan and it’s not long before he’s lost the use of his legs and is stuck in the hell of a badly funded, unsanitary veterans’ hospital where black nurses are more concerned with their civil rights than the casualties of a foreign war (“You can take your Vietnam and shove it up your ass!”)
Kovic still clings to his patriotic and religious ideals, upset when he sees anti-war protestors burning the flag. However, it’s not until he gets back home and witnesses police brutality firsthand (as well as having an anti-war younger brother) that he starts to question the ‘bullshit lies’ and path he’s been so naively led down.
Then there’s the fantastic scene where the humiliation, bitterness and self-loathing become overwhelming and he drunkenly wigs out at home. Grabbing a Jesus-draped crucifix off the wall, he yells: “This is what you believe in, mom. I don’t believe in him anymore. I wish I were dead like him. There’s no God. God is as dead as my legs. There’s no country. It’s just me and this fucking wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
His stupid, pious mother (convincingly played by Caroline Kava) won’t budge an inch, leaving him little choice but to try to whip out his useless johnson in a bid to get through to her. “At church they say it’s a sin if you play with your penis. I just wish I could. I didn’t even get time to learn how to use it. It’s gone, just fucking gone in some jungle over in Asia.”
And how does mom try to counter the rage-filled cries of her little Yankee Doodle boy? “Don’t say penis in this house!”
The two-decade-spanning Fourth of July is not without minor faults, though. The syrupy orchestral music and Kovic’s stick-on tash are occasionally distracting while an encounter with a gorgeous Mexican hooker that not only restores his manhood but gives her a blissful orgasm is a bit much. This Oscar-winner isn’t quite in the same league as Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, suffering slightly by covering similar ground to 1978’s Coming Home, but it’s still an immersive, flesh and blood flick. There’s an awful lot to applaud, especially Cruise’s persuasive performance in which he goes from a gung-ho Marine to bewildered paraplegic to committed pacifist.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Then he stumbled.
First there was the poorly received Far and Away, a movie I’ve never had the slightest desire to seek out, followed by the mechanical attempt to repeat Top Gay‘s formula for success by substituting planes for cars in Days of Thunder. Here a sleepwalking Cruise is a stock car driver called Bowel Trickle or Hole Tickle or something, but the movie’s so uneventful (Robert Duvall talks to cars, Michael Rooker gets a headache) I never exactly grasped it.
Nevertheless, I did manage to smirk once or twice at Cruise’s future wife Nicole Kidman playing a frizzy-haired brain surgeon, obviously having just graduated with honors from the Kelly McGillis School of Absurd Roles.
Two duds in a row. And for the first time Cruise looked like he’d rather be somewhere else than in front of a camera. Was his Midas touch deserting him?
He just dusted himself down, gave his trademark grin a tweak, remembered no one does arrogant bastard better, and went back to his hotshot basics. The result was A Few Good Men’s grinning hotshot arrogant bastard of a lawyer.
Cruise plays Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a glib as fuck, expert plea-bargainer. He’s appointed to represent two Marines who’ve illegally punished (and killed) one of their own. It’s expected the case will not come to trial, but then Kaffee meets the staggeringly unpleasant Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), who lectures him about being in ‘the business of saving lives’, and something sticks in his craw…
This is a well-cast ensemble piece, the sort of slick entertainment that Hollywood excels at. Cruise is witty and engaging, especially when he spews a Jim Carrey-like deluge of animated sarcasm upon the ‘galactically stupid’ Demi Moore. It’s also hard not to sympathize with his exasperation at the military mind’s poisonous, inflexible bullshit. Indeed, his confrontations with the bible-thumping ‘weasel’ Kiefer Sutherland and Nicholson’s coiled menace result in riveting cinema.
Despite its total lack of action, A Few Good Men was a massive success and perhaps the best courtroom drama since Paul Newman’s 1982 vehicle, The Verdict. Cruise was up and running again.
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Now while I think Cruise is a bona fide movie star that doesn’t mean I think he nails every role. Just the idea of him in a horror movie feels wrong (unless, perhaps, he’s going to play an arrogant undead lawyer type).
This Neil Jordan pic teamed him with Pitt, but its star power and sumptuous production values can’t hide the unfortunate predicament (like Coppola’s similarly gothic Dracula) that it forgets to be scary.
As for Cruise, he’s got a couple of big problems. One, he’s an actor who can’t project menace. Two, he looks like a tit. With his long blonde hair, cravat and foppish air, he could’ve stepped out of an Adam Ant video. It really is hard not to snigger when he starts baring his fangs and biting chunks from a passing rat. It was also the first time I found him downright annoying, especially his bloody boring bickering with Pitt.
Interview has other major flaws, including his co-star’s dreary, interminable voiceover, the wooden dialogue, the lack of narrative drive, the sheer amount of repetition, the uneven tone, the unintentional humor exemplified by a bout of poodle-killing, its cowardly failure to do anything interesting with its gay underpinnings, and the frequent time jumps. Plus, its framing device of a two-hundred-year-old vampire giving its life story to a reporter is too silly, ahem, for words.
Sometimes very good actors have weaknesses. Just think of Harrison Ford, a marvelously charismatic performer whose attempt to play a full-on nasty bastard in the laughable What Lies Beneath didn’t convince. Dustin Hoffman also flunked out as a murderous mobster in Billy Bathgate.
He’s woefully miscast here as a vampiric dandy, his inability to play believable killers reiterated when he turned up in 2004 as an ice-cold hit man in Michael Mann’s not very good Collateral.
Fair play, Respect the cock and tame the cunt is a memorable little phrase and one of the last things you’d expect to tumble out of Cruise’s mouth.
Well, up until this point, his characters lacked nastiness, but that changed when he shucked off the big-budget, mainstream stuff and took on the role of arch misogynist Frank T.J. Mackey.
He’s not a rapist and stops short of advocating sexual abuse, but it’s fair to say that the feelings of the gentler sex are not exactly paramount when it comes to the delicate art of relationships. What makes it worse is he’s a highly successful motivational speaker who spews his corruptive bile over similarly inadequate males. This ‘master of the muffin’ has written a charming book called Seduce and Destroy, a missive that will teach you ‘how to turn that ‘friend’ into a sperm receptacle’.
At one point he’s interviewed by a reporter, prompting him to lay bare his winning philosophy while frolicking in his underwear and panting like a dog. “I am what I believe. I do as I say. I live by these rules as religiously as I preach them. That’s why I’m getting the nasty left, right, center, up, down and sideways. The Battle of the Bush is being fought and won by Team Mackey.”
For some reason people often dismiss Cruise as a bad, mediocre or one-note actor, but check out his performance here, especially when the cracks start appearing in his pathetic veneer.
Magnolia is a three-hour collage of richly detailed, overlapping vignettes that unites topnotch writing, acting and directing. It makes mistakes, such as a baffling group sing-along and a bloody silly deluge of frogs, but it’s always bold and perceptive. This was Cruise’s bid for indie credibility and he’s integral to its success.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
You may think We’ll always have Paris, There’s no place like home or Up yours, nigger! are among the best movie quotes of all time, but I’ve always been fond of Never go full retard.
Now although Cruise doesn’t utter this PC-baiting mantra in the overlong but pretty good action-comedy Tropic Thunder, he’d surely be aware of its sly relevance, having already snagged a Golden Globe and Oscar nod for his wheelchair turn in Fourth of July.
Here he plays the volcanic-tempered, profanity-spewing studio exec Les Grossman, the guy’s appearance alone enough to distinguish him from everything else in Cruise’s catalogue.
Bald, bearded, bespectacled, paunchy, very hairy, and with strangely large hands, this is a memorably grotesque character.
“From now on,” he tells one underperforming employee, “my fist is gonna be so far up your shithole that every time you have a thought it’s gonna have to tiptoe past my wedding ring.”
Surrounded by sycophantic lackeys, Les will fire you, arrange for you to be publicly punched in the face or, if you happen to be a ransom-demanding Asian terrorist, offer to send you some hobo’s dick cheese. Best of all is his provocative, bloody funny dancing where he turns into a hip-grinding rapper who likes to ass-slap imaginary hos.
Not sure what Joel Goodson would make of that.