Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An Impossible Mission: Getting Tom Cruise To Not Be Tom Cruise

Some months ago, settling in for another film, I happened to see a trailer start up with footage of Moscow, followed promptly thereafter by an explosion at the Kremlin. What unfolded thereafter was, of course, flashes of the new Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the latest of these preposterous films if you keep track of them as they go by. One thought that went through my mind by the end of the trailer was "Well, I guess I can't write a sub-plot about the Kremlin getting blown up in a future book now, can I?"

This is the fourth movie in the series to follow the larger then life exploits of Ethan Hunt, an operative in the IMF unit, an semi-autonomous division of the CIA. Hunt, of course, is played by Tom Cruise, who's desperate to revive his box office mojo and make himself look good in the process (the latter is more important to him, by the way). It seems having couch-jumping meltdowns and antagonizing your audience by pushing your odd beliefs tends to backfire in the long run.

 I said preposterous earlier in describing these films, and that's not really a bad thing. Of the four films, each has their positive points (I vastly prefer the second in the series, for a terrific villain and an outstanding leading lady). The films are dizzying action set pieces with their own unique style, directed by four different directors who have each made their mark on the franchise. The problem, in a manner of speaking, is the star.

The new film starts out with the assassination of an IMF operative (Josh Holloway, from the much missed Lost) and a rescue of Hunt (with a source) from a Russian prison. Superimposed against this is the aforementioned explosion at the Kremlin, an act blamed by the Russians on Hunt and his team. The IMF is officially disbanded, though the director (Tom Wilkinson in a much too brief appearance) gives Hunt orders to hunt down the true guilty party. He's paired with Jane Carter (Paula Patton), Benji Dunn (a returning Simon Pegg) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to chase down the truth, a mission that will bring them across the world. Their quarry, as they learn, is one Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), who plans to start a nuclear war.

The film runs along at breakneck speed, with multiple action sequences. The prison breakout in Russia and the explosion at the Kremlin kick things off, and the later scenes take place in Dubai and Mumbai (with some breathtaking sequences at the Burj Khalifa skyscraper) with the fate of the planet at stake. Director Bill Bird, who's primarily done animated work before, does exceptionally well managing the action, as unbelievable as it may seem at times. Among his cast, Nyqvist is a well cast villain, Pegg is funny as usual (he gets some of the best lines) and Renner shows us why he's a more interesting, compelling actor. This is the guy who made a strong impression in The Hurt Locker, and his cameo in Thor will lead into his appearance in next year's The Avengers. He comes across as gritty, not polished, the sort of agent who just wants to get on with the job, rather then flash a toothy grin and show off.

This, of course, brings us to what's wrong with the film, and as I've already indicated, it's the leading actor. Tom Cruise has, in the past been a big name. In more recent years, he's been overshadowed by his own eccentricities. In both instances, however, he's never shown the ability to step out of himself, to inhabit the role. Whatever film he appears in, the audience is constantly reminded there's Tom Cruise again. Other actors can wrap themselves up in their role, and you find yourself watching the character, not the actor. Cruise seems incapable of doing this, and his persona as a person becomes very, very distracting.

It doesn't help that every shot of him in this film seems catered to make him look good. It's as though he had to be consulted to make sure he'd be seen in the most positive way in each frame. In past Mission Impossible films, when his character has been hurt, even his cuts and bruises are rendered to look sexy. This is the mark of extreme vanity. And when you combine that kind of vanity and the fact that he's not a good actor, it detracts from the film.

I thought about a recent Cruise film that I also liked despite the presence of the leading man. In Valkyrie, though he took steps to look different (the eye patch was essential for that role), he still proved distracting, because he wasn't inhabiting the role. And to make things worse, he'd surrounded himself with an outstanding cast that outdid him at every turn. The same thing gets repeated here; Renner and Nyqvist are much better actors, and thus the limitations of Cruise become that more obvious.

What will the future hold for this franchise? I would think it's better for all said if Cruise finally gave up. He's been doing this character for fifteen years now, and his personal vanity grates on the nerves. Renner's Brandt points towards where the franchise might go. I found him a more interesting character. Bird did a satisfying job with the director's mantle, and I'd like to see more out of him in live action in the future.

Maybe Tom can try to revive other films in his resume. I've heard there's word of a follow up to Top Gun (I've never seen more then a few bits and pieces of that film, actually). And I wouldn't mind seeing a film called A Few Bad Men. Think of it as a mash-up with U.S. Marshals. The disgraced former marine colonel Jessup played by Jack Nicholson escapes from prison, kills that snot-nosed JAG lawyer (Mr. Cruise, of course) who ruined his life (in the first twenty minutes; we can't have too much of the murder victim, after all). He then goes on the run from a cranky marshal (Tommy Lee Jones) and his team.

"You can't handle the truth! Now give me my Oscar!"
Admit it. You'd love to see that film.


  1. Suri Cruise is going to have me kneecapped for this one...

  2. For all we know, poor little Suri may be looking for an escape for that Scientology freak show.

    I can't watch Cruise at all anymore. I can't see him in character. All I see is the couch-jumping nutcase, and it ruins any film her's in for me.

    One of these days, they're going to get even with you. You'll sell the film rights to Heaven & Hell, only to find it will star Tom Cruise as Stryker, Blake Lively as Devon, and it will be directed by Guy Ritchie.

  3. No Suri will be delighted to get rid of him as by all accounts she is very spoiled or is try to get out before she becomes a robot like her Mom..

    I have never liked Tom Cruise as a actor or a person. He has ruined every movie I have ever seen him in. I was so looking forward to Valyrie but I had to turn it off. I rented it, refused to pay full price to see him.
    I feel the same was about Spielberg, who uses Tom quiet often, a match made in Hell.
    There are a few actors who I don't like in person but are so compelling on the screen I can for the length of a film get pass that but Tom is not one of them.
    I so enjoy reading your reviews !

    The Square Ones say Woof and yert !

    cheers, parsnip

  4. I would pay extra to see that movie! I detest Tom Cruise. Lately I have taken to boycotting any movie he is in. He is quite simply put: not a good person.

  5. Parsnip--I agree! Katie Holmes is a real-life Stepford Wife!

  6. Well, to be honest, I don't like him either. He's a pompous, arrogant fool and goofy looking to boot. Jumping up and down on Oprah's chair cushions did it for me. Plus, all this Scientology crap just makes me wonder what he and Travolta are really doing behind closed doors.

  7. With Valkyrie, I kept wishing Thomas Kretschmann, who appears in the film, would have been in the lead. He's one of my favourite actors, and he'd have been amazing.

  8. @Norma: "Coming in 2014, from the novel by William Kendall, but disavowed by its author, Tom Cruise and Blake Lively star in Guy Ritchie's adaptation of Heaven & Hell"

    It would feature lots of slow down and speed up edits, and just to confuse the audience, leprechauns on fire.

  9. I wish I could post those laughing smileys here!

  10. Lol! You guys are cracking me up with Heaven & Hell the movie.
    I like the Mission Impossible films a bit...enough to rent them on video. But I also can't stand Tom Cruise, for the same reasons everyone else can't stand him. And I hear ya, Norma. I'll never get the crazy jumping-on-Oprah's couch" Tom out of my head.

  11. At least Tom is HOT now. When he first came onto the movie scene, I thought what an ugly bird in socks and underwear. But like Christina, I do like the Mission Impossible series and do understand where you're coming from. Cruise would've been a better stunt man in my opinion.

  12. The two of us would just rather it be Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton headlining the film and not a trace of that silly couch jumper.

  13. I used to like Tom Cruise a lot, but you're right about his recent eccentricities.

    I'll tell you who can lose herself in the character: Meryl Streep. I saw a trailer for her new movie about Margaret Thatcher, and oh my goodness, I had a hard time seeing Meryl Streep in the character. Now that's good.

  14. Yes, she really does that.

    Another one that I saw mentioned in a recent blog is the actor John Hawkes. You've seen him in a good many roles, even if you don't know the name, and he really inhabits the characters he plays.


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