Monday, June 9, 2014

The Many Deaths and Redemption of Tom Cruise

I saw The Edge of Tomorrow over the weekend. It was a hell of an entertaining movie; a big, Summer, make things go boom movie with intelligence. Before I get into Tom Cruise and this movie here's a couple of stray thoughts about it.

  • Bill Paxton has a small but memorable role. He's not an actor you expect scenery chewing from but here he does. Clearly he's having fun with a role that he's played variations of before. 
  • I didn't realize that Christopher McQuarrie was a credit screenwriter until the credits were running. I love his work and wish I had know ahead of time.
  • The ending sucks. This is an extension of a bad re-writer process and not an indicator of the movie that came before. But you should know that the last 5 minutes or so really are kind of terrible.
  • I have read other books published by Haikasoru but not the one that this is based on, All You Need is Kill. Now I want to. Especially to see how the book ends. 

What struck me the most was how perfect Tom Cruise was for the role and now was the perfect time for it. 

Tom Cruise was, for a long time, a top leading man and one of Hollywood's (if not *the*) best bankable stars. He was on fire and everyone loved him.  Then something happened. He got divorced, he jumped on Oprah's couch, he became regarded as almost strange. In short, his star fell. He still appeared in big movies that did well but things weren't the same. Could his image be rehabilitated? I think The Edge of Tomorrow is partly a commentary on Tom Cruise's career, and partly a front row seat to his redemption.

Tom Cruise's character is a media relations officer who, in the beginning, is smug, arrogant, cocky, and confident. He's Jerry McGuire and other characters he's played before. He's in his zone selling the public on the war and the upcoming invasion. We, the viewers, have a distaste for these moments. They conjure for us images of talking heads on our own televisions. Plus, we no longer like Tom Cruise the actor  as we once did so our reaction is to call bullshit because we can smell and taste the bullshit spin coming from him. It's a great synergy of character and actor. We hate the character, and because we don't like the actor, it doubles down on the bet.

What really makes this character interesting is that he's a coward. Because of his position in the military he's not had any proper combat training. But it goes beyond that, he doesn't want to fight and will do anything to keep from having to do so. This adds a layer of depth to the character. This is the subtle trap being laid by the film and by Cruise. Because he can act, and this gives him something to work with.

But at this point in the movie we aren't on the characters side and we still don't like Cruise. There is a perverse joy in seeing him killed over and over and over and over again. As the repetitive deaths occur two things happen. The first is that he uses his time wisely by trying to learn and get better. The second is kind of like a Cool Hand Luke moment. You know when Luke is fighting Dragline and refuses to stay down. That moment when the blood lust of the crowd starts to wane and the excitement of what they were seeing dies. This happens too with the many deaths of Cruise's character.

Further adding to the Tom Cruise commentary running through the film are visual nods to his movies. Leaving base on a motorcycle evokes Top Gun. A later moment, when he is strapped to a cot and, in an attempt to escape, flips the cot over leaving himself suspended just above the floor, invokes Mission Impossible. These moments are stripped of the importance that they had in the earlier movies. I'll be curious to watch the movie again to see if there are any other references to past Cruise movies.

Throughout all of this Cruise wins the audience back. He's been rebuilt before our very eyes and we remember all of those things that we loved about him as he displays them for us. This is the trap laid for the audience. A big budget action movie where we think we know what is going to happen (and perhaps don't expect too much), a hero that's a coward, a waning star saying "let me prove it to you" and then that triumphant moment when he does. All of his star power is beaming in the flawed final moments of the film.

I don't know what's next for Cruise. He's not a young man anymore but still has a lot to offer. I hope that The Edge of Tomorrow will see him transition to the next, and perhaps more interesting, phase in his career.

Just my thoughts coming out of the movie. If you've seen it, please jump in.

1 comment:

Scott Parker said...

My wife saw it and loved it. Oddly, she doesn't always enjoy the summer-type film and didn't always like Cruise, but she has ever since MI2. I've never had a problem with Cruise, thinking of him as a movie actor who makes a basic type of movie. And he can do whatever he wants in his personal life. I've been so in love that I've metaphorically jumped on a couch, but never on national TV. Wonder why he got such a bad rap for declaring his love? His religion is probably the answer. Too bad about that.

And, my wife loved the film so much that she's willing to see it again with me.