Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"I'm quietly judging you."

So Andrew from Encore is putting together a rather... ambitious project. He's getting his readers to determine the best acting performances of the 90s and is arranging the whole event in one big NCAA Tournament-style competition. So far he's only into the second round, but now he's conned invited other LAMBs to help promote the thing by writing about the players in this contest, and that includes Yours Truly. I have to admit, I wanted to do something similar to this on my old comics blog at one point, but it never worked out. He looks like he's pretty hardcore about this thing, though, so maybe you better head on over there and cast your vote for your favorite actor or actress. But before you do, permit me to make my own contribution by making the case for one of the players: number 3 seed Tom Cruise, in the film Magnolia.

I own Magnolia on DVD. It's a mesmerizing movie; seeing all these disparate characters and how they relate to each other is fun to watch. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has gone from the Altmanesque ensembles of his earlier films to smaller, tighter, more focused casts, and though he takes a longer time between films, they're always worth the wait. His latest, The Master, was shot in 70mm, the first fiction film in that format in almost twenty years, and I cannot wait to see it. Here's a recent interview with Anderson on The Master that's well-worth reading.

A role like Cruise's in Magnolia could easily dominate the entire film. The flashy theatrics of men's self-help guru Frank T.J. Mackey when he's on-stage, not to mention his emotional breakdown when he confronts his absentee father, are undeniably showy and "actor-ly," but what really sells both the character and Cruise's performance for me is the interview scene, where the reporter - who, to her credit, doesn't back down from Frank - attempts to probe into his personal life, and you can see Frank's shields slowly go up little by little, the barely-repressed rage bubbling close to the surface. There's also a little bit of real-world subtext as well - Cruise's association with Scientology has made him, like Frank, a somewhat controversial figure with certain views that challenge conventional wisdom. If nothing else, it's one of his most memorable roles. It's rare that someone of his superstar caliber gets to be part of an ensemble, especially one as deep and talented as this.


  1. It's weird, I feel I've missed the boat on the intense hate for Cruise as I've missed the boat on the intense love. So, I observe him with interest but not intense emotion on either side. For me, his career is buttressed by three terrific performances: Born on the Fourth, Jerry Maguire and his work in Magnolia. Admittedly, he'd probably come in second (or third) in the cast for me but he really sells the performance.

    Thanks for the write-up.

  2. I'd say the love comes from his early days as a matinee idol, especially around the time of 'Top Gun,' and the hate comes from his involvement with Scientology and antics like the Oprah-couch-jumping. That he is an outstanding, intensely hard-working actor has never been in dispute, but his personal life really does have a tendency to eclipse his tremendous talent.

    I'm in total agreement with you about his three best performances, and I'd even be willing to throw in 'Tropic Thunder' for his ability to completely subvert his own image and still be entertaining.


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