Two weeks ago, Tom Cruise was on the cover of the New York Times Style magazine; he was also selected as one of Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008.
For the life of me, this focus on such an annoying person is just bizarre. A few years ago, the guy went bonkers. He jumped on some couches like a crazy person, went on an odd whirlwind love affair with a woman who he subsequently had a child with, criticized those who suffer from clinical depression and seek medical treatment for it, and had a very public feud with a major studio.
He is one of the most famous members of a religion concoted by a mid-twentieth century science fiction writer, a religion so secretive and weird that it is outlawed as a cult in Germany and generally mistrusted in many other countries.
All of this should be enough to prevent us from paying much attention to him. And yet the reason he became famous in the first place is because he was a young and good looking actor…who had turned out to be not really so great at doing that either.
His newest movie, Valkyrie, an overblown action thriller about the failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler in the year before World War II ended, puts the icing on the cake. The AP calls Cruise the movie’s weakest link and “distractingly bad,” levying a lot of other insults over the course of its Valkyrie review.
No surprises there.
For his part, Stephen Metcalf, writing for Slate, doesn’t believe a mid-career renaissance is in the offing for Cruise:
Cruise has that famous smile, of course, his boyish good trim, and a synthetic American normalcy that puts him over with audiences in Bhutan or Sri Lanka. Now think about what he lacks: humanitas, gravitas, carnality, whimsy—everything, in short, that might rise up to fill a midlife smile with feeling. Even premium Cruise, the A-game actorly actor of Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia, who gears up a half-berserk lour when working with a directorly director, offers more of the same: bark, glare, seethe, repeat. I can’t name another American icon who has been so popular, and for so long, and yet so hard to like, and for so long.
Amen. Metcalf thinks Cruise’s career trajectory dovetails nicely with Reaganism and the ups and downs of the stock market:
Nascent in the early ’80s, emergent in 1983, dominant in the ’90s, suspiciously resilient in the ’00s, and, starting in 2005, increasingly prone to alarming meltdowns. For both Cruise and the Dow Jones, more and more leverage is required for less and less performance. Place Cruise next to Nicholson, Newman, and Tracy, and he is a riddle. Place him next to Reagan, and he is not so confounding at all.
As a full co-production of Reaganism, Cruise helped synthesize a new personality type: neat, clean, personable, and lacking in either adult probity or the stray edge, for fear of pricking the surface of a giant bubble. But to live within “what the fuck” is to die within “what the fuck.” Jerry Maguire is Maverick’s idea of an adult, just as von Stauffenberg is Jerry Maguire’s idea of a serious acting role. Of course audiences are tempted to laugh. The Cruise persona, like a junk bond, was never meant to reach maturity.
I don’t think I’ll be shelling out any dough for Valkyrie on December 25th. I tend to shy away from movies that take history and repackage it for a modern audience, grossly misrepresenting historical fact in the process. If you’ve seen any of the TV commercials for the movie, Cruise says something like: “Hitler is the sworn enemy of all people on earth.”
Jesus. The story is suspenseful and important enough without making up crappy dialogue. I’ll eat my foot if Bryan Singer (who is said to have made a visually stunning film, at least) can promise me Colonel Von Stauffenburg actually uttered such a ridiculous piece of concocted speech.