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[Article] – Cruise Control

 

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Posted October 1, 2017 by

 
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Tom Cruise is an actor who continues to work relentlessly with the fearless determination of a man half his age; this approach has seen Cruise become one of the world’s biggest action stars over the course of this century, a drastic change from his post-millennial work. 20th century Cruise used to push his limits dramatically, taking challenging roles in films like Magnolia and Born On The Fourth Of July, where he earned three Oscar nominations before the new millennium. But 21st century Cruise has often moved away from dramatic fare, into work that will satisfy the adrenaline junkie in him, turning him into a hugely bankable star over the last decade. This line of work has created the kind of role for Cruise that he can perform in his sleep, he runs, jumps, wisecracks, looks shocked, performs death-defying stunt and then runs some more, which he is undeniably great at, but recent failures perhaps show signs that this approach is starting to wear thin. Does Tom need to turn off ‘Cruise’ control and re-embrace his dramatic side, surely his all-action antics cannot continue forever?

Whilst Cruise started out with more purely dramatic roles, the path his future career would take was hinted at, alongside films like Rain Man and A Few Good Men were Top Gun and Days Of Thunder, not action films per se, but offering aerial and vehicular thrills, something Cruise has become more and more accustomed to, being a keen stunt driver and aviator outside of work. The idea of an all-action Tom Cruise began to manifest itself with the revival of Mission: Impossible, beginning the trend where Cruise would perform all of his own stunts. Alongside this series, which has become a personal one-upmanship contest for Cruise, performing ever more daring stunts to live up to the ‘Impossible’ name, films like Minority Report and The Last Samurai gave Cruise greater opportunities to showcase his physicality.

Not only did these films create a new direction for Cruise, they were successes, not even his off-screen antics with scientology and sofa jumping could hamper his appeal. It was clear audiences enjoyed watching Cruise push his limits as much as he enjoyed dong it, he has made no secret of his love for thrill seeking, and the silver screen had given him the perfect place to showcase it. For a while Cruise juggled action and drama, gaining acclaim for Collateral, Valkyrie and unforgettably as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, a rare comic turn, but the last decade has seen action begin to dominate. In the role of producer, the famously determined and headstrong actor has been able to craft films to his taste; his last purely dramatic role was in Valkyrie, nine years ago. His output since then has been undeniably physical, highlighted in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, where took Dubai’s Burj Khalifa by the scruff of the neck and made all vertigo sufferers feel seriously ill, this is the best example of Cruise’s adrenaline seeking corresponding with audience satisfaction and has given Cruise freedom to continue to do so.

Three of his recent films, Knight And Day, Oblivion and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation have featured motorcycle sequences, a personal Cruise penchant and both Rogue Nation and The Mummy have featured plane sequences, where everything does not go smoothly. Cruise may have made the cinema his personal playground, and successfully so, but his white-knuckle thrills may be beginning to wear thin. This started with Cruise’s adaptation of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, which saw many complaints about his casting, in a role that would technically have been more suited to someone like Liam Neeson, and was seen as just another showcase for more of Cruise’s stunt-work. Though the film was more positively received than expected, it’s sequel, Never Go Back was not so fortunate, garnering only 37% on Rotten Tomatoes, Cruise’s worst received action orientated film since Mission: Impossible 2. This approach of taking an existing franchise and crafting it to the Cruise template was repeated wit the recently released The Mummy, which has ended up as a waking nightmare for everyone involved, with some of the most scathing reviews of Cruise’s career, only Cocktail has gained worse.

Much of the blame has been aimed at Cruise, with many saying his determination to make The Mummy a ‘Tom Cruise picture’ saw the film unravel, where this has worked in the past, here it was met with unprecedented vitriol. In the wake of building negativity surrounding Never Go Back and The Mummy, Cruise’s latest – American Made – offers a crossroad for his career, should he continue headfirst into the action, or re-embrace his dramatic side, he has seen major successes in both genres, but which is best going forward?

American Made is a biopic of pilot turned smuggler Barry Seal, already you can see why Cruise was attracted to the role, another opportunity to take to the air, but there is also dramatic potential, something Cruise hasn’t embraced for a long time. Though many of the aspects of the film seem to show Cruise cannot commit to either side, Seal himself was a much, much larger man than Cruise, representing another Jack Reacher like problem, Cruise was reportedly set to put on significant weight to be closer to Seal’s 300 pound frame, but if you have seen any image from the film it’s clear that never happened.

In the past Cruise has gone to great lengths to get into character, for Born On The Fourth Of July, he took to living in a wheelchair as preparation and even considered using a nerve agent that would paralyse him for several days, an idea that was nixed by the film’s insurers. But a Raging Bull level of piling on the pounds didn’t materialise, you only have to look at Cruise’s upcoming releases to see why he balked, sequels to Mission: Impossible, Edge Of Tomorrow and Top Gun will no doubt require him in peak physical condition. American Made has already garnered positive reviews for Cruise, but you only have to read the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes: “American Made’s fast-and-loose attitude with its real-life story mirrors the cavalier – and delightfully watchable – energy Tom Cruise gives off in the leading role.” To see the film is hardly withdrawn from the Cruise template. Seal’s story has undeniable thrills, but perhaps Cruise should have pushed harder for drama, this year is more likely to see him nominated for Razzie rather than an Oscar, for a film that has the dramatic potential, American Made could offer a route back for Cruise, for how long will action continue to work for him?

His recent injury shooting Mission: Impossible 6 highlights the fact that even the unnaturally youthful Cruise is not invincible, it has been two decades since the first Mission Impossible, how long can he physically continue. For a man that is (unbelievably) midway through his sixth decade, the Geriaction genre is inevitable, but is this really what Cruise wants to do? Bruce Willis abandoned dramatic fare along time ago and has seen the once great Die Hard reach new embarrassing lows, Stallone and Schwarzenegger have seen their star power fade and have moved back into dramatic territory and John Travolta has wallowed in the ignominy of the straight-to-DVD market for the best part of a decade after From Paris With Love, it is a genre that has brought them all short-lived and waning success.

How long can Cruise realistically continue with the Mission: Impossible franchise, he may continue to reinvigorate it as of now but even the latest iteration seemed to revel in suggesting Ethan Hunt was over the hill, will audiences still flock to see Mission: Impossible 12, featuring a 70-something Cruise. Charles Bronson’s last film was Death Wish V: The Face Of Death, which didn’t gather a single positive review and didn’t even recoup its $5 million budget, surely a franchise that Cruise has worked so hard to stay fresh and entertaining deserves a better fate than this. One thing you can say about Cruise’s recent films is that his undoubtedly the star, his last supporting role was in Rock Of Ages in 2012, and despite the fact that Cruise is very good at being a star, arguably he is as equally effective in a supporting position.

Geriaction has become popular because it gives older stars the continued opportunities to land leading roles; dramatic fare offers far fewer opportunities, once great leading men can often struggle to keep their names at the top of the credits when they reach a certain age. Supporting roles can be much more lucrative, many famous leads have re-invented their images with Michael Caine, Gene Hackman and Sean Connery all finding supporting Oscar success in the latter stages of their careers, and this type of role was perhaps Cruise’s greatest dramatic success, with Magnolia. As Frank T.J. Mackey, Cruise was a dislikeable, deeply troubled character and his scene at his father’s deathbed was as greater triumph as death-defying, show-stopping stunts. It was a role that proved that Cruise was a great actor, and that he didn’t have to be the star, or be ‘Tom Cruise’ to do so. And let’s not forget his turn as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, a role in which he disappeared into so completely, many didn’t even realise it was him until the credits rolled. It was an uproarious appearance that showed Cruise also has great comic potential alongside the dramatic chops.

Cruise will inevitably have to decide between Geriaction and being the star, and drama where he can become an actor again, sure Cruise’s star power is great enough that he will still get dramatic leads, but not with the same assurance of action. If Cruise is willing to give up the ‘Tom Cruise’ role and silence the adrenaline junkie within he will no doubt be able to rediscover the same kind of success he had back in the 20th century. It may be a different kind of rush, but one that will allow him to keep his dignity, if he is willing to let the Mission: Impossible franchise go out on a high rather than let it go the way of so many once great action series, for an actor with such intense focus and determination, that energy will be still be invaluable in other areas.

American Made may be a return to more grounded (if not physically) fare, but shows Cruise is on the fence about where he is headed, his upcoming selection of sequels will prove if his action star is still burning bright or if he needs to change course, if after two decades audiences will still delight in the Cruise template. If so you would imagine he will keep running and jumping off of things for as long as his body will carry him, if it continues to make money it wont be just Cruise who wants to continue. For now we are still on ‘Cruise’ control.

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Sam May
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