Tom Cruise feels the need for speed almost every time he’s on the big screen.
The 55-year-old superstar is best when he’s playing Tom Cruise, the cocky alpha male ready to save the day. That’s how we know him from movies like “Top Gun,” “Mission: Impossible” and the new “American Made.”
Yes, the latter is based on true events. It still has that Cruise vibe down to the core.
It isn’t always this way. Cruise actually portrays a character in “American Made.” And, in the following five movies he strays far from his standard screen persona. One time, in particular, he was darn near unrecognizable. It reminds us there’s a fine actor lurking beneath the toothy grin.
A bald, heavyset Tom Cruise? Yes, that’s Cruise cast as Les Grossman, the obnoxious studio head prone to crazed dance moves.
Cruise’s career had hit the skids, by his lofty standards, and he reinvented himself (partially) by tackling the unconventional role. He worked hard to make the role his own partly by ensuring we couldn’t see the real Tom Cruise beneath the body hair and fat suit.
Cruise earned his third Oscar nomination for his supporting turn in this Paul Thomas Anderson gem. He plays Frank, a motivational speaker whose catchphrase isn’t fit for a family-friendly outlet. He seared the screen all the same, feasting on the material in a way that revealed an appetite for more dramatic work.
“Eyes Wide Shut”
Director Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t let Cruise fall back on his movie star shtick. Not when the auteur made movies so sporadically that each one became a bona fide event.
Cruise stars with his then-wife Nicole Kidman in an erotic thriller that tapped into, but didn’t oversample, the actor’s on-screen appeal. His character may look like Tom Cruise, but he’s alarmed at his wife’s erotic dreams and thoughts that she might pursue them in real life.
That sends him on a very Kubrickian journey that divided critics then … and now. Cruise’s performance proved he could push past studio fare to collaborate with an unabashed master of cinema.
“Born on the Fourth of July”
In 1988 Cruise delivered both an unexceptional performance in “Cocktail” (arrogant ladies man) and a more nuanced one via “Rain Man.”
The following year he wowed critics in Oliver Stone’s anti-war treatise. Cruise played Ron Kovic, an injured veteran fighting the politicians who sent him off to fight in a foreign land. Cruise raged against the U.S. power structure from his wheelchair, channeling an artistry that led to his first Oscar nomination.
“Rock of Ages”
Cruise seemed a bad choice to play an Axl Rose-style rocker in this film adaption of the jukebox musical. Once more, he proved doubters wrong.
“Rock of Ages” drew mixed reviews and tepid box office results. You couldn’t blame Cruise. He committed completely to the role of veteran rocker Stacee Jaxx and drew mostly positive notices as a result.