When Tom Cruise acts his age, audiences will return

I don’t make it a point to criticize celebrities very often, even though they often say and do dumb things. So a few years back when Tom Cruise had some of his more famous melt-downs and garnered national admonishment for it, I didn’t say a peep. The sad truth is that as whacky as Tom Cruise is he is actually pretty normal for the average Hollywood celebrity. His marriage to Nicole Kidman lasted well over a decade, and it seems he is in a good and stable relationship now with actress Katie Holmes.

Regardless of Tom Cruise personal triumphs and tragedies, I only concern myself with what I see on the screen or if an actors life effects what they do on the screen. Tom Cruise the human being may be a wreck, but Tom Cruise the actor most certainly is.

If you haven’t heard the news the latest Tom Cruise flick “Knight and Day” tanked at the box office, earning just 20 million despite a heavy ad campaign and a five day weekend ( the film opened on Wednesday).  What bothers me most about this is that many younger filmgoers will only know Tom Cruise as an embarrasment and not the bona fide star he once was.

Tom Cruise is 47, soon to be 48, but you wouldn’t know it from his recent plastic surgery. It looks as if Tom Cruise has had his teeth capped, his face lifted, botox for his eyes, possibly hair plugs, and is obviously working out non stop and tanning non stop to maintain his 1985 image. Tom Cruise desperately wants to be the Tom Cruise from Top Gun, Cocktail, and the Color of Money. But hey Tom, let me clue you in on something: It’s over.

When Tom Cruise made The Color of Money in 1986 with actor Paul Newman, many people felt his career would roughly paralell that of Newman’s, who was a mentor for the young actor. Like Paul Newman the Tom Cruise of the 80’s was impossibly good looking, and charming beyond belief. Both men had a smile that melted women’s hearts and piercing blue eyes. Both men were short, and half-jewish, but seemed larger than life on screen. They were both married to knockout blonde actresses and had success at a relatively young age. But most importantly both actors took risks in their careers in order to shake their pretty boy image.

Paul Newman took risky roles like The Hustler and Cool Hand Luke, and Tom Cruise did the same in Born on the Fourth of July and Rainman. Tom Cruise, like Newman, also knew how to use his good looks and charm to play against type such as the naively vulnerable Vinny in The Color of Money, and the egocentric failure of a man in Jerry Maguire, who slowly realizes just what a joke his life has been.

But what set Paul Newman apart from other great actors of his generation was his ablity to age gracefully and have a sense of humor about the whole thing. In the Towering Inferno, Newman was cast opposite Steve McQueen, but rather than balk at the role, or try to steal every sex scene from the up and comer, Newman gracefully played an older, more vulnerable hero who was willing to let the young stud actor take the bigger moments from him. Newman did the same thing when he worked with Robert Redford, an actor so handsome that few male contemporaries were willing to share screentime with him. In both cases, Newman’s subdued performances not only made his co-stars look good, but reminded audiences of why Newman was just so cool to begin with. Newman didn’t have to look good to look good. Audience loved him the same way every time.

Newman was able to continue this tradition throuhghout his life, earning oscar nominations in his sixties for The Verdict, and The Color of Money, and two in his seventies forNobodies Fool and Road to Perdition. Growing old never hurt Newman, and Tom Cruise could learn a lesson from this.

It seemed as if Cruise understood his place in Hollywood when he agreed to take smaller parts in films like Magnolia, or his comic turn in Tropic Thunder, or his willingness to go darker in Collateral, but lately that hasn’t been enough for Cruise. Not satisfied with more mature roles that require real acting (and less pay) Tom wants to be a box office king again and demands top billing in such overblown thrillers as Mission Impossible 3 and now Knight and Day.

Their something sad and pathetic about grown men who don’t know how to act their age. Their is nothing wrong with being 50. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart made good films throughout their fifties, but they usually played older, family men with vulnerabilty. They weren’t handsome young studs anymore.

Tom Cruise has many ardent fans, and I am one of them. It is impossible for the people of my generation to forget about what Tom Cruise once was. He was a bigger star for a longer period of time than just about anybody who worked in the industry. John Wayne is the only other actor that comes to mind who stayed on top as long. So Cruise’s fans will always be there for him, but not when he makes bad movies or continues to look and act like a 23 year old kid.

It is time for Tom Cruise to grow up. When he does the audiences and the fame he so craves, will return.


Jack B.


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