It’s Top Gun redux for Tom Cruise

Cruise is back with a sequel of the film that made him famous. But over the years, has Cruise the actor been overshadowed by the action star?
(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)
(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)
Published on Aug 02, 2019 05:26 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAseem Chhabra

Tom Cruise burst on the Hollywood scene, playing a Chicago teenager dancing in his underwear, shirt and white socks to Bob Seger’s song Old Time Rock and Roll in Risky Business (1983). He was 21 years old. His other on-screen appearances at that time included The Outsiders (1983), Francis Ford Coppola’s ensemble piece about teenage gangs. Besides Cruise, the film starred Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estavez, Patrick Swayze, all inching towards stardom.

But Cruise broke out of the pack with Risky Business and his subsequent iconic film Top Gun (1986), director Tony Scott’s hugely entertaining story about elite US navy pilots in a training school in San Diego. With its intense aerial combat shots, hit popular songs – Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love and the classic (Sittin’ On) the Dock Of the Bay by Otis Redding, and Cruise’s über charm, Top Gun grossed over $350 million globally.

Eleven months from now, Paramount Pictures will release Top Gun: Maverick and Cruise is going to be back on the screen, reprising the role that made him a worldwide phenomenon. He will be 58, still a big star with a winning smile that lights up his face and eyes, but also somewhat tainted with the controversies he has generated because of his deep involvement with the Church of Scientology. Cruise was introduced to Scientology in 1990 by his first wife, Mimi Rogers, but it did not become a defining part of his life until a decade later.

In the years after the release of Top Gun, the actor performed in a number of acclaimed award winning films – Martine Scorsese’s Color of Money with Paul Newman (Newman won his only Oscar for this film); Barry Levinson’s four times Oscar winner, Rain Man, with Dustin Hoffman (he won his second Oscar for his role as a Cruise’s older savant brother); Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), for which Cruise was nominated for Best Actor Oscar for the first time; and Days of Thunder (1990), where he met his second wife, then an unknown Australian actress, Nicole Kidman.

Cruise’s stardom and success was unstoppable, and major Hollywood filmmakers lined up to cast him -- Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men, 1992), Sidney Pollack (The Firm, 1993), Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, 1996 and Vanilla Sky, 2001), Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut, 1999), Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, 1999, in which Cruise, confident of his stardom, played a supporting role) and Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, 2002 and War of the World, 2005). And he acted as Ethan Hunt in the rebooting of the popular television show Mission Impossible (1996). The six films in the series have earned $1.2 billion and changed Cruise’s profile to that of an action star.

But Cruise’s personal life – often out in the public, was complicated, almost messy. After divorcing Kidman in 2001 he first dated Spanish star Penelope Cruz and then married a young actress Katie Holmes. That marriage ended in 2013. In 2012, a Vanity Fair article said that after Cruz and Cruise broke off, the Church of Scientology went into the motion of “auditioning” a number of young Hollywood actresses to find the best choice for the star to date and marry. Lawsuits were threatened, but Vanity Fair stuck to the story. More damaging was Cruise’s 2005 war of words with actress Brooke Shields who had spoken about using an anti-depressant to cope with postpartum depression after her daughter was born. Cruise’s position – criticised by the medical community, was there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance. Earlier he also said psychiatry should be banned.

Cruise’s statements in support of Scientology rattled his popularity among fans, especially women. Eventually A-list directors stopped working with him. One report even suggested Spielberg was upset with Cruise. But action films kept the star popular, especially in the international markets.

We are in the age of big stars like Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio. But Cruise survived the upheavals in his life. The excitement on social media about the trailer of the new Top Gun film indicates that not all of Cruise’s fans have abandoned his ship.

Tom Cruise has acted in 49 films since the early 1980s. Here are five crucial films from Cruise’s career that show the talent and the range of the actor and the star. They represent the golden period of Cruise’s filmography, before his personal decisions impacted his career, especially his star status.
Rain Man (1988)
Director Barry Levinson’s film about two unlikely brothers on a road trip won four Oscars, including Best Picture. While Cruise was not nominated, his cocky take on the younger brother Charlie Babbitt was a perfect counterpoint to Dustin Hoffman’s older savant Raymond Babbitt.
Born on Fourth of July (1989)
Based on a true story, Cruise delivers a heartfelt performance playing Ron Kovic, a paralysed Vietnam War veteran who became an activist after feeling betrayed by his country.
A Few Good Men (1992)
In this drama, based on Aaron Sorkin’s play and the first screenplay by the celebrated writer, Cruise plays a military lawyer defending a few marines accused of murder. Cruise’s courtroom battle scenes with Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) display some of the finest acting in a Hollywood courtroom drama
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Cruise’s sex appeal was often seen in films such as Top Gun (1986) and Cocktail (1988). But in director Cameron Crowe’s huge hit Jerry Maguire, he shows his romantic vulnerable side. The film became very popular with Cruise’s female fans.
Magnolia (1999)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is packed with a large ensemble cast. Cruise plays an over-the-top, high on energy talk show host. Magnolia is also the second time in his career that Cruise strips down to his underwear – this time during an interview with a female journalist. But towards the end of the film he breaks down in tears in a heart-wrenching scene, and we see a very different side of Cruise, the actor.

Aseem Chhabra is an entertainment writer. He has written biographies of Shashi Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra.

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