With a hugely successful career that now spans more than three decades, Tom Cruise needs no introduction. Quite simply, he’s one of Hollywood’s most familiar faces. In some senses, being such a huge star can sometimes detract from the actual acting qualities that are displayed and I’ve often found this to be the case with Cruise. Say what you will about his personal life and his dedication to Scientology or his sometimes mindless blockbusters, but when Cruise commits to a role outside his comfort zone, he can be very effective.
Having been a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Cruise personally asked Anderson to consider him for a part in his next film and he was given that opportunity with Magnolia in 1999. It was a role that initially terrified him but he decided to take a step back from lead actor and embrace the supporting part that he was offered. Ultimately, it shocked and surprised many who hadn’t seen him in such a role before.
Cruise plays Frank T.J. Mackey, a self-proclaimed “master of the muffin”, who holds seminars on how to conquer women or, in his own words, “how to turn your [female] friend into a sperm receptacle”. Frank is a shark-like misogynist who has no reservations about treating women as the lesser sex and actively encourages men to use them through his “Seduce and Destroy” self-help system. He’s a distasteful and bitterly twisted individual that shows no concern for others unless it’s to stroke his own ego. However, underneath his cocksure exterior, it’s revealed that he holds a deep vulnerability and it’s in the duality of the character that Cruise delivers an undeniably bruvura performance.
Given his role in Hollywood as the handsome boy-next-door or sought after lothario, there’s an element of self-parody in Frank Mackey and it’s a role that will, no doubt, upset Cruise’s legion of female fans. That said, this is partly the enjoyment in seeing him embrace it while there’s no denying it’s power or his bravery to play against type.
If he’s not strutting or gyrating across the stage while demanding his followers to “respect the cock and tame the cunt”, he’s peeling back layers to reveal his insecurities. Despite, the vibrant bravado on show, he’s also afforded a couple of scenes that demand a heartfelt emotional response; One during an interview with a female journalist who sees through his facade and poses difficult questions – at which point he refuses to continue with the interview and instead chooses to sit in silence and “quietly judge” the reporter. The other is at the bedside of his dying father where his carefully constructed mask finally slips. In both scenes Cruise is given the perfect opportunity to showcase his range and he’s very impressive to say the least. Mackey is a deep and complex character and it’s arguably the best Tom Cruise has been in his entire career.
Oscars? – After winning a Golden Globe and widespread critical acclaim, Cruise was Oscar nominated in the supporting category. Many expected him to win (myself included) but he was overlooked in favour of Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules. This was a huge mistake from the Academy and if Cruise can’t win for this superlative performance, then I have no idea what else he has to do to win one.
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