Tom Cruise Film Festival, Part Two

I had so much fun with my first retrospective of Cruise’s work (link here) that I made a pointed effort to watch (or re-watch) more of his films. Following are my impressions of this second batch. Dim the lights!

Jack Reacher

Tension up to eleven! Amazingly well done! Jack’s an ex-military policeman, and for some reason he stays off the grid now that he’s out. We get all sorts of reasons why the authorities are bad in this one. Yes, there are bad people in authority, but there are also good people. Cruise’s Jack is more of a vigilante than anything else, and yet he makes you side with him. It’s very sad that we have to come to that conclusion, but this gripping story and Cruise’s performance give us no other choice.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Hell, even more tension right from the start! There’s definitely no break from the action, but it’s not a bad thing. I like the way Reacher has a reputation as a hero, but it’s a little ridiculous how all the bad guys can just do whatever they want to, all the time. Nonetheless Cruise gives us a character we can root for without reservation.

American Made

This is a period piece initially set in the 1970s. It’s loosely based on the true story of a shady character named Barry Seal. Cruise is looking older here, which is of course inevitable since this was released in 2017. Cruise’s version of Seal is shady but likable, with the Cruise charm we’ve come to expect. He’s confronted with opportunities and obstacles, and gets to express a wide range of emotions as well as a lot of energy. He doesn’t phone in the performance, even after all these years. An interesting perspective and an interesting story, ultimately winning my heart by playing some George Harrison at the close.

Top Gun

With the sequel on my “to-watch” list, I wanted to go back and re-watch the original. Because after all these years I really didn’t remember it. Herein we get to see the young and cocky Cruise all over again. He’s a stud with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He has the skilz but also sees into the vulnerability of others. One example is how he recognizes that Cougar needs his help and talks him down. Another is how he bonds with Goose and acknowledges that his own behavior affects his friend, realizing that this man is the only family he has. Over the course of the movie he matures and takes responsibility for the consequences of his behavior. Cruise playing Maverick’s most vulnerable moments is a tour de force. I usually hate sequels (just make a good original movie will ya?), but I’ll go into the next Top Gun with an open mind.

Top Gun: Maverick

Well, that was underwhelming. Why does Hollywood love to give us protagonists who screw up their lives repeatedly and never seem to learn? And in this case, don’t get the promotions they’ve earned? We get rebels and loners whose attitude always sabotages them, rammed right down our throats. Star Trek’s Kirk gets busted from Admiral back to Captain. And Maverick should’ve been a two-star Admiral by now, but he’s never been promoted past Captain. His love interest from the original movie is just missing, thus further undoing the life lessons we’d thought he’d learned, and this installment’s love interest is a woman he’s already failed more than once. At one point this new woman’s adult daughter tells Maverick, “Don’t break her heart again.” Will he? Or will he finally grow up? Why can’t we have heroes who aren’t idiots? Well, regardless, the movie is OK, I wouldn’t write home about it but it was enjoyable for what it was. What was frustrating was Val Kilmer’s character. Yes, the actor has throat cancer, and it’s good to see him working. But Ice was the cause of Goose’s death and Maverick’s not winning the Top Gun competition. He wouldn’t fire at the target during one of the exercises, and refused to move out of the way to let the others make the attempt. He kept saying, “Just a few seconds more and I’ll get it.” After a painfully long time he finally flies off in a huff, and his exhaust trail is what makes Maverick’s plane crash and thus Goose dies when he is improperly ejected. Ice wins because first Maverick has to stand trial, then his head is messed up and he misses some of the exercises. If none of that had happened, Maverick might very well have won, and Goose certainly would’ve lived. But Ice never stands trial, there is no talk of his culpability, and while I understand that the writer wanted to throw us a dramatic curve in the first movie, it’s just too much to see Ice’s future and compare it with Maverick’s. Ice becomes Admiral of the Pacific Fleet or some such, and the only reason Maverick is still flying at all is because Ice periodically countermands someone else’s orders and reinstates him. I find the whole thing very off, not just logically but emotionally, and this aspect of the story is a major contribution to my dissatisfaction.

Is Cruise getting a little long in the tooth by now? I’m afraid so. Time to start playing his age, I think. The “little boy charm” just looks horribly out of place.

In conclusion? Tom Cruise has quite a memorable body of work, and is certainly a master of his craft. I look forward to seeing him play more mature roles now. (Hint.)

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