everyone knows Tom Cruise. For some, he represents the idea of the last action hero who films as if he were Buster Keaton: without fear of breaking an ankle doing his own stunts, against the grain of an industry that prefers to shoot everything in front of a green screen, in the security of a studio, to complete the scenes with computer effects in post-production.
For others, the signifier “Tom Cruise” triggers memories of his excessive appearances on television, his scandalous and failed marriages, or a sect that attracts millionaires from California. A chaotic simulacrum of appearances coexists in the idea that surrounds his figure, but although everyone thinks they know him, his figure is still enigmatic. There is a certainty: He is one of the few Hollywood personalities who knew how to consolidate his career, always in front of the big screen, beyond the 1980s in which he began to attract the masses.. Top Gun: Maverickwho received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival (a space that was never characterized as the most receptive place for Hollywood tanks), seems to rectify his power as one of Hollywood’s last stars.
In The last Samurai, the protagonist is a captain of the United States cavalry who discovers the value of the culture he must conquer. The settler learns from the natives and decides to face something more than the westernization process that Japan suffered in the 19th century: he decides to fight the power of war machines much more advanced than his own. The character played by Cruise rediscovers the importance of preserving an ancient tradition, the code of ethics of the samurai.
A similar idea is taken up in Top Gun: Maverick to build the hero as someone who is there to pass on knowledge, but not be part of the action, because soon all the old (and young) pilots will be replaced by automated systems. “It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot”, they repeat during the film, in different circumstances that recontextualize and redefine that phrase. In recent years, Tom Cruise built himself as more than just a successful actor surviving from the ’80s to date. He championed himself as one of the Spartans who resist the advance of streaming, when most studios doubted the continuity of cinema in the pandemic.
Cruise, the actor beyond the screen, was one of the first to set foot in a cinema when, in August 2020, some rooms were just beginning to reopen in the midst of the pandemic. The future of theatrical exhibition was uncertain, because cinemas were not only a closed space full of strangers in times of Covid: they also seemed threatened by simultaneous streaming premieres. Cruise, filming himself going to the premiere of Tenetseemed to be on the side of cinema as a collective experience.
“Big movie, big screen. I loved”, the actor wrote after the performance. “Cinema is my love, my passion. I always go to see the movies when they are released. I put on my cap and sit in the audience with everything” explained the actor from top gun when asked why he hadn’t streamed the sequel instead of postponing it nearly two years from its scheduled 2020 release date. “That’s not going to happen; never,” he claimed.
Cruise reinvented the film saga of Mission Impossible taking as a reference more than just the 007 or Jason Bourne movies. He capitalized on behind the scenes, where both star and stuntmen put their lives on the line to pull off incredible stunts, as an exotic oddity that counteracts the advancement of the ever-increasing use of computer effects. Filming the seventh and eighth films about agent Ethan Hunt, an audio was leaked where the actor shouted furiously at the carelessness of one of the film’s workers about the protocols for Covid: “We are creating thousands of jobs. I never want to see it again. If I see you do it again, you’re fired. Do not say sorry. You can tell the people who are losing their fucking houses because of the closure of this industry.” The message, as if it were Maverick himself motivating his crew, seemed aimed at a much larger audience than the film crew of that movie.
In 2005 Tom Cruise was a guest on Oprah’s television show to promote his second collaboration with Steven Spielberg, war of the worlds. In response to the presenter’s question about the actor’s relationship with Katie Holmes, began with euphoric gestures that went viral beyond the TV program, in times when the concept of social networks did not yet exist. From Scary Movie a South Parkthe entertainment world made fun of the actor’s ecstasy, and some read that entire interview as an overacting in the face of certain suspicions that were growing about the actor’s sexuality, which in 2001 he had filed a defamation lawsuit against a porn actor who had said that the protagonist of Jerry Maguire was gay.
Katie Holmes was not Cruise’s first marriage. He had met Nicole Kidman, his first wife, filming Thunder days, in 1990. But the relationship was already in its twilight when they filmed Eyes wide Shut, by Stanley Kubrick, both playing a New York couple in an emotional and sexual crisis in 1999. Her relationship with Kidman, with whom she adopted two children, appears to have been turbulent. They divorced due to “irreconcilable differences” and, according to the documentary on the Church of Scientology, going clearthe actress had her phone lines tapped by the actor from rain man.
After a few years as a couple with Penélope Cruz, whom he met while filming Vanilla Sky, Cruise married Katie Holmes, with whom he had a daughter in 2006.. By 2012, they were already fixing the terms of the divorce privately, although he himself acknowledged a year later that the protagonist of Batman starts broke up to get daughter away from scientology. In 2008, a video of several minutes went viral on YouTube where Tom Cruise, in an atrium in front of a room full of Scientologists, spoke about the benefits of the sect. The video had to be censored when the institution threatened YouTube with lawsuits.
Recognized as one of Scientology’s most important ambassadors, in previous years he had joined several heads of state (including George Bush and Tony Blair) to lobby for his church. Rumors of a fight between Spielberg and Cruise were also fueled by the star’s activism against drugs for psychiatric treatment and in favor of alternative Cruise therapies proposed by Scientology. Many interpreted that, in 2005, when Cruise said he was going to eat the postpartum placenta of the daughter he had with Katie Holmeshe did it as part of some ritual imposed by the Scientologists.
Paul Thomas Anderson had filmed Magnolia, in 1999, with Tom Cruise playing a motivational speaker on television. But Anderson in 2012 released another film, The master, which portrayed a story very similar to that of the founder of the Church of Scientology, surrounded by insane characters and thugs. The only thing the director said, when asked if Cruise had seen that movie, was: “Yes, he did. He had some problems with her. Yes, we are still friends. The rest is between him and me.”
Beyond all the scandals, Cruise’s career stands out both because of the filmmakers he worked with (all of those already mentioned are joined by Scorsese, with the color of moneyand Mann, with Collateralamong others) as the corpus of his work, in which he had Oscar-winning films (rain man), box-office hits and flops, spanned genres (in comedies like A movie War or dramas like Cocktail Y interview with the vampire) and knew how to reinvent himself as an icon of the North American hero who is not afraid to denounce the evils that afflict the nation itself.
From Matter of honorpassing by born on the fourth of julyeven in the two films of top gun (In the original, some read a blurb about the US Navy and others, like Quentin Tarantino, saw a story about gay pilots) Cruise’s characters seem to evoke patriotic sentiment and fighting against the most powerful adversaries.
In times where cinema seems to be dominated by superheroes, franchises and sequels, Tom Cruise is also built as one of the few names that still moves viewers to the big screen. Not that he hasn’t had failures: The MummyUniversal’s attempt to create its own superhero universe, squandered in 2017 any intention of the studio to profit from classic monsters. edge of tomorrowthe reversal of the concept of time spell as an action film, it ended the actor’s flirtation with science fiction that had begun in 2002 with Minority report.
It is not that the actor is not a box-officer: he is one of the most prolific, with a collection that exceeds 8 billion dollars joining all his films. Away from the image that he built himself in the first decade of this century, and after the success of the last Mission ImpossibleCruise seems to prove that the star system that dominated Hollywood in its golden age is not dead yet.
“The end is inevitable, Maverick, your species is headed for extinction,” an admiral warns the captain who plays in the sequel to top gun. The phrase can have multiple readings and be understood as a reference to a way of seeing (and making) movies, a way of thinking and facing life (the classic tension between those who act “according to the manual” and those who follow their instinct ”), the way to build the idea about the stars (involving media scandals to attract the interest, however morbid, of the spectators, and entrenching an actor with a particular style of movies), or thinking over time as the real enemy to defeat. At 59 years old, Tom Cruise, an anomaly in the contemporary film scene, seems far from wanting to retire from action.