Here Is Why Tom Cruise Is More Than An Action Star

Archita Kashyap - 64 weeks ago

As Tom Cruise turns a year older, we pick those performances of the superstar that have stood the test of time for their versatility. Cruise, wanting to entertain people since he was just 4, has done that with flair, and has suffered from the syndrome of being too ‘good looking’ to be taken seriously as an actor. Signing him up has meant that filmmakers, like Paul Thomas Anderson would tell you, makes you a studio’s best friend - with more money, more time and a lot more support to make your film. Amidst his superstar career, Cruise has delivered memorable performances in smaller, content driven films. Here are our picks.

(Tom Cruise in a still from Magnolia)

Magnolia (1999) 

For Paul Thomas Anderson, Cruise delivers the most breakthrough performance of his career as motivational speaker TJ Mackey, peddling a self-esteem kick start for men. Pumping his fists into his underpants while deriding the female species, TJ Mackey is high strung, restless and deeply insecure. Cruise and Anderson connected over losing their fathers to illness when they were relatively young. Mackey’s breakdown near the death bed of his father is key to making this film so appealing till date. It’s his vulnerability stripped of cultivated confidence, a strange swagger that Cruise masters. With dialogues like ‘seduce and destroy’ and ‘master the muffin’, TJ Mackey is Cruise’s most hyper sexualized character onscreen, without a single sex scene included in the film’s final cut. 

(Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in a still from Rain Man)

Rain Man (1988) 

Not a major star yet, and definitely not an actor to be taken seriously - when Tom Cruise signed up to play Charlie Babbitt, he had odds staked against him. Co-star Dustin Hoffman wanted Jack Nicholson and then, Bill Murray for this part. But director Barry Levinson, who had replaced Steven Spielberg and another filmmaker to take over this project, believed in Cruise. 

Charlie Babbitt is a typical yuppie, greedy, set on making a fast buck, battling debt and emotionally flippant. When he sets out to first rob his half-brother, Raymond, with special abilities while pretending to take him from a mental health institution, he realizes that his brother has a flair for the numbers. He schemes to hit Las Vegas and count cards with his brother to make enough to pay off his debts and get his portion of a big inheritance. What develops during a hectic, messed up road trip is affection for his brother. Cruise’s performance is at once, hyperbolic, nervous and sensitive during the right moments. He never got nominated for an Oscar award, nor got much recognition for this role. Rain Man became a top Cruise movie over time. 

(Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. in a still from Jerry Maguire)

Jerry Maguire (1996) 

Tom Cruise plays this sports agent, inspired by an epiphany and then having to live in the real world of sports management, like a pro. Drawn from a real life story, Jerry Maguire is manic and over the top at times, but extremely believable in his world. Cruise plays this character with devilish charm and vulnerability. Maguire is flawed and likeable, a lot like Cruise. Perhaps the likeness helped in charting him out onscreen; in any case, it’s an all-time favorite Tom Cruise movie. 

(Tom Cruise and Indra Ove in a still from Interview with the Vampire)

Interview with the Vampire (1994) 

Lestat De Lioncourt, the blood thirsty, high-life loving vampire makes a steady appearance in author Anne Rice series of books - The Vampire Chronicles. Which is why, she expressed her absolute disagreement with casting Tom Cruise, popular movie star of films like Top Gun as the lavish, glamorous and complex Lestat. Turns out her skepticism were misplaced. Rice bought out two pages in Variety magazine after the film’s release to praise and laud it. Following up on this, she spoke about the beauty and magnificence that Tom Cruise bought to the persona of Lestat. In her own words, she said, “He was beautiful beyond description and yet compelled to do cruel things. Lestat is complex, willing to harm human beings but not a creature without a conscience." Tom Cruise swung this role with flamboyance and flair. 

(Tom Cruise in a still from Born on the Fourth of July)

Born On the Fourth of July (1989)

Often, performances where tragedy is core to a character are considered an actor’s most superior. Tom Cruise was still evolving when he played Ron Kovic, the author whose book inspired Oliver Stone’s film. Kovic is gung ho, all-American, star athlete and local hero, and then after his stint in the Vietnam War, he is wheel chair bound, having lived through the trauma of a military hospital with the war wounded. His bitterness at antiwar protestors, and then his empathy for them which grows into his vocal antiwar belief shows a transformation of a character that undergoes many lifetimes worth of pain, grief and realization. Cruise lost out on the Best Actor Oscar to another wheel chair bound character, Daniel Day Lewis for My Left Foot, in 1990. His performance remains touching and indicative of greater things. 

(Tom Cruise and Demi Moore in a still from A Few Good Men)

A Few Good Men (1992) 

Once again, Tom Cruise didn’t get nominated for an Oscar award here, despite the film picking up a cluster of nods. But his performance, as a young military lawyer who needs to learn to take his legacy and his work seriously, is admirable for its spontaneity. A Few Good Men, written by Aaron Sorkin is best remembered for its powerful military courtroom confrontation between the dogmatic general played by Jack Nicholson and the young lawyer, played by Tom Cruise. But there is more to the film- in its bare, uncompromised focus on systematic perversion of justice. Cruise wears the part lightly, pulls it off naturally and takes on the serious mantle smoothly when it’s called for. 


Tom Cruise / Magnolia / Rain Man / Jerry Maguire / Interview with the Vampire / Born on the Fourth of July / A Few Good Men / Birthday / Paul Thomas Anderson / Barry Levinson / Cameron Crowe / Neil Jordan / Oliver Stone / Rob Reiner

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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