What becomes essential for a star? In Tom Cruise’s case, control

Special for Infobae of The New York Times.

(Critic’s Notebook)

“To do my job,” mused Ben Stiller, as Tom Cruise’s stunt double Tom Crooze in a video made for the 2000 MTV Movie Awards, “I have to ask myself: Who is Tom Cruise? What is Tom Cruise? Why is Tom… Cruise?

That’s a complicated set of questions.

On screen, Cruise is unequivocally our biggest movie star, as New York Times journalist Nicole Sperling recently explained, the last true exponent of a centuries-old movie studio system that has been steadily eroded by the growing forces of film franchises and streaming. His powerful charisma and daredevil stunt work have been combined, once again, in her latest hit, “Top Gun: Maverick”, which has broken the billion dollar barrier.

Off screen, Cruise is slippery. He is the public spokesman for a cryptic and controversial religion that seems harder to understand the more he talks about it. He is very secretive about the details of his private life. Even when he tries hard to seem like an ordinary guy, he ends up sounding like an approximation of artificial intelligence. When asked by Moviebill magazine to describe his most memorable movie experience, Cruise couldn’t name one. (When asked which team he rooted for at a Giants-Dodgers game he attended last fall, he replied, “I’m a baseball fan.)

It can be difficult to reconcile such disparate sides. So it is worth asking the question: who is Tom Cruise?

Much of his early success as an actor, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, was based on a certain down-to-earth charm. The sexy, troubled young Cruise of “Risky Business,” the innocent and lovable Cruise of “Cocktail,” and the tenacious, morally principled Cruise of “Jerry Maguire” all relied on his ability to convincingly embody the American common man, the sympathetic heartthrob that the public could wish for or support.

By the turn of the century, he complicated that image by appearing in more challenging and less accessible films like “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Magnolia.” Authors such as Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson helped portray Cruise as a serious actor, capable of giving subtle and nuanced performances.

Now he has moved away from romance, drama and independent film. In the last decade, she has established herself in action-adventure cinema, perfecting the genre of the summer blockbuster. His performances tend to emphasize his easy charisma and his powerful athleticism, but Cruise continues to bring to these roles a touch of the same delicate charm and acting nuance of his dramatic work. He can be seen in the naturalistic chemistry he shares with Jennifer Connelly in “Maverick,” and in the jaded, world-weary intensity he flaunts in the last couple of “Mission: Impossible” sequels.

Cruise is not seen doing a false interpretation. He gets the feeling that lately he treats every movie he makes as if it’s the most important of his life.

The results of this commitment are almost miraculous. How could anyone expect that “Top Gun: Maverick,” a sequel to a 35-year-old action movie with a rather cold critical reputation, would be not only vastly superior to the original film, but also one of the best action movies around? in many years?

But then you read about Cruise’s stubborn insistence on keeping everything as real as possible: demanding a minimum of CGI, forcing himself through arduous flight training, encouraging his co-stars to endure G-force speeds until They literally vomit. Some of Cruise’s co-stars over the years have characterized his obsession as extreme to the point of something that smacks of cinematic high-handedness, and it’s true that it would probably be easier, and cheaper, to do a lot of this in front of a screen. green. But that’s not Cruise. When it comes to these things, he worries too much.

Cruise’s devotion to film runs deeper, if that’s possible. It is a devotion to cinema with a capital letter. As today’s top talent flocks to streaming companies with blockbuster ambitions, Cruise has been adamant that he won’t make movies for the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, refusing to negotiate the possibility of a video-on-demand premiere for “Maverick” early in the pandemic. (“I make movies for the big screen,” he explained.)

His interest in preserving that traditional cinematic experience is reflected in the colossal scale of his productions, so that when Cruise looms over you in immense Imax dimensions, he feels as big as the picture. It’s a reminder that much of what we watch is tailored to the streaming age: a mass of “content” designed to play just as well on a phone as it does on the big screen. For those of us who still care about cinema and fear for its future, Cruise’s efforts are invaluable.

Cruise has all the qualities you look for in a movie star and none of those you expect from a human being. As a screen presence, he is unique; as a person, he is inscrutable. But it is that hermeticism that has allowed him to reach a level of clarified and unsullied superstar, which exists almost entirely in the movies, untainted by worldly concerns.

The Cruise star shines as brightly as any of his contemporaries, and far brighter than any who have come after him, in part because he continues to put more and more of himself into his work and less and less of himself to everything else. Who is he? You have to watch his movies to find out.

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