Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Home-Made Film Festivals (3): Tom Cruise, Master Thespian

Despite his public persona, Tom Cruise has often managed to mark up his celebrity with enough nicks and outright gouges to help us forget the automatic smile and relentless charm, and see a sharper, rougher shape, surrendering to the role--and to the good directors who have helped him in these efforts.

The Color of Money (1986)
It’s important to realize this was released the same year as Top Gun. Martin Scorsese anticipates Cruise’s emerging image--and dismantles it, as he sets him against Paul Newman, in a changing of the guard that is as heartless as it is exciting. An early sign (his role in Legend/1985 notwithstanding) that Cruise was more than willing to both nurture and abandon his Cruise-ness.

Magnolia (1999)
Paul Thomas Anderson gives him the ultimate anti-Cruise role: Frank T.J. Mackey, self-help guru for ex-frat boys, profane, heartless, and cocky (pun intended), who falls apart as thoroughly as Cruise’s own status as Mr. Right.

War of the Worlds (2005)
A fitting end to this festival, in which absent dad Ray Ferrier needs to reassert his value to those around him. Ray is always on the verge of collapse, as war-damaged as Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and all but useless until he faces the limits of grinning away one’s problems. This is the second time (after Minority Report/2002) that Steven Spielberg hammers like a swordsmith on Cruise, producing dangerously honed edges.

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