The Film Buffa: Happy 60th, Tom Cruise: From a hitman to a doomed lover, he’s done it all

Happy 60th birthday, Mr. Tom Cruise. I couldn’t care less about your politics, religion, or whatever you choose to do on the silent nights in the convenes of your own home. I care about entertainment, and that is something the “Top Gun Maverick” star is a master of, as evidenced by the billion-plus box office gross of his latest movie–one released forty-plus years after the original. Proof that Cruise still has “it,” in spades.

On this pre-Fourth of July Sunday, let’s bask in the glow of the ONE legit action movie star. The guy who hung off the side of an airplane as it took off for a stunt, or the short but fiery guy who leaped from one building to another, breaking his leg in the process. Cruise is the guy who literally rides a motorcycle everywhere and anywhere at the movies. In fact, whenever I see a motorcycle in real life, I figure Cruise is the guy riding it, doing that civilian soul’s stunts. In a sea of fakes and half-baked talents, Cruise is still the real deal. A thrilling movie star who takes risks.

Let’s look at a few of those signature roles before the drinking, swimming, and smoking begins here.

VINCENT in “Collateral” (2004)

Thank you, Michael Mann. Thanks for bringing out the antagonistic point of view for Cruise’s star power. Paired with a remarkably understated Jamie Foxx as an entrapped cab driver, Cruise prowled the streets of a wild and dark Los Angeles for six targets. All the while, Foxx’s noble but still petrified Max and Cruise’s silver-haired devil fox collide with their differing morals and the movie becomes a sprint to the daylight of the next morning. Cruise played the shit out of Vincent, allowing the audience to see the decay in his soul but the driven killer instinct still blinking red in his chest. Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Javier Bardem, and Peter Berg, and Bruce McGill shined–but the powerhouse of Stuart Beattie’s breakout script. It holds up very well.

Fun Fact: In order to prepare for the role, Cruise went incognito as a UPS delivery guy so he could learn how to mask his appearance in public places. A Mann idea.

DAVID AIMES in “Vanilla Sky” (2001)

One of Cruise’s most underappreciated roles. Cameron Crowe grabbed his “Jerry Maguire” buddy for a complex odyssey about the pursuit of love and how life can change in a true instant if careful steps aren’t taken with unstable people. This was one of the first times we really got to see the kind of spell that Penelope Cruz could cast on a soul, even in make believe. Aimes is a rich guy with too many friends and way too much sad baggage in his past, and Cruise didn’t blink or wince in chasing his deluded dreams and outstretched hopes.  Pete Maverick may torture himself with what he did or didn’t do in the air with Goose, but David Aimes can only think about the night of love he fumbled the following morning. That ending still compels the mind and hits hard.

LEX GROSSMAN in “Tropic Thunder” (2008)

As good as Robert Downey Jr. was in this warped yet hilarious Ben Stiller war comedy, Cruise is still the one actor on that star-studded cast list that amazes you. It’s the most UN-CRUISE and VERY CRUISE-LIKE role of his entire 50 credit IMDB resume. Dancing and shouting in a fat suit, putting down poor Bill Hader and Matthew McConaughey in the process, while steering Stiller, Downey, and Jack Black out of trouble. This came after the only period in life where the actor hit a bump in the road. People couldn’t handle a guy jumping up and down on a couch, confessing his love for a young actress half the world wanted to have sex with. Even with “War of the Worlds” doing spectacularly, Cruise hit a rough patch (at least for him), and Grossman helped pull him out of that.

Roles that Cruise was born to play and doesn’t require much introspection on: Pete Mitchell in “Top Gun,” Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible,” and “Jerry Maguire.”

Chief John Anderton in “Minority Report” (2002)

Cruise’s tearful scene at the beginning of the third act of Steven Spielberg’s expert sci-fi thriller is arguably his best piece of acting. The scene where he thinks the man who took and killed his son is standing in front of him, now pleading for forgiveness. But instead of pulling the trigger, Anderton reads him his rights through a puddle of tears and restraint. It’s not overacted or out of place; Cruise’s protagonist spends the majority of the film clearing his name and finding futuristic killers. But the thing that haunts him is the kidnapping of his son at a public pool, a subplot of the film that exists as the heartbeat of the film.

Barry Seal in “American Made” (2017)

One of his overlooked or underrated roles, Seal was a commercial airline pilot who could literally fly any plane in any kind of climate. But once he crossed paths with not only the Mexican drug cartel and the CIA, his life dramatically changed. It’s a true story and allows the charisma and daredevil charm to come out of Cruise, who has several pilots licenses in real life. It’s also the rare movie without a happy ending for the movie star, which made the movie more memorable to me.

Vincent in “The Color of Money” (1987)

The true launch of the Cruise touch, this young pool shark showed off the crackerjack shine in the actor’s eyes and how he could hold his own with a legend in Paul Newman. Hearing the opponent walk over to Vincent and ask what’s in the box, only for Cruise to reply with “doom,” is such a well-delivered line–along with that wide, 60 watt smile. It proved he was a man on a mission from an early date, one who intended to make a real dent in the land of make believe.

Cruise achieved that and then some, hitting the Mach 10 of Hollywood movie stars with the “Top Gun” sequel success, along with his brilliant “M:I” collaboration with Christopher McQuarrie. Nearly half of his films have grossed $100 million at the box office, an incredible feat. He’s also been nominated for three Oscars. At the age of 60, he’s still going as strong as he was at the peak of his fame. Some movie stars don’t become relics. They pick, choose, and are careful with their choices. Cruise was the guy who bypassed upfront salary for several of his films, instead going for a backend piece of the box office. Wise strokes.

One more thing: His role in James Mangold’s “Knight and Day” is just terrific. A comedic blast of good writing from Steven Knight and a fitting reunion with Cameron Diaz (from “Vanilla Sky”). Give that one a watch on the Fourth of July, and you will learn what dictates “with me” and what equals “not with me.”

Thanks for reading.

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