An actor only a mother could love and only Ben Stiller could impersonate? Salon readers weigh in on Charles Taylor's "How does Tom Cruise rate?"

By Salon Staff
Published August 9, 2004 8:03PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

It is funny to me that Tom Cruise was the reason a grand epic like "The Last Samurai" was made, but you forget he was even in it. I am 41, and have had this discussion in various forms with other men my age over the years, and my conclusion is that Tom Cruise is who our mothers all wanted us to be when we grew up; the best at whatever field we chose, brushing and flossing after every meal. His core audience is his mother's generation, who go to his movies like they are elaborate school plays or championship soccer games their own sons once starred in but have long since outgrown. His own generation doesn't like him, but old women do. He dotes on them and works so hard to impress them. They brag among themselves at how well he is doing in his career and gossip about his personal life.

Have you ever known anyone who resembled Tom Cruise in any way? They end up wearing Ray Bans and smiling a lot. And their mothers are very proud. To everyone else, he is like a socially retarded trust fund kid who doesn't offend you, but who you wish wasn't on the same guest lists as you. Had anyone else broken down in the middle of a movie and screamed "Tech Support!" to the heavens, it would have become a catch phrase to beat anything Austin Powers ever said. They tell us we like him, but it is our mothers who feed him. He is more like Eddie Haskell than Troy Donohue, except that Ward and June saw right through Eddie Haskell.

-- Johnny Neill

I found myself disagreeing with much of what Charles Taylor had to say about Tom Cruise in "How Does Tom Cruise Rate?" -- although, admittedly, I did notice that he seemed strangely miscast as a father in "Minority Report," despite his being a father in his offscreen life.

As regards Taylor's contention that Cruise "may not have a recognizable persona," which he follows up with the question "ever seen a comic do a Tom Cruise impression?" I wanted to remind him of Ben Stiller's dead-on Cruise impression, which was memorable enough that I still recall it a decade after his sketch show went off the air.

I also challenge anyone who sees Hugh Grant dancing through the halls at 10 Downing Street in "Love Actually" to not be reminded of a much younger Cruise sliding in sock feet across hard wood floors in "Risky Business" -- a scene that has been referenced in countless spoofs in the last 20 years. Certainly Mr. Cruise deserves some credit for having infused that scene with a humor and sweetness that has secured it a place in the zeitgeist for the foreseeable future.

-- Melissa McEwan

Never have I read a more dead-on review of Tom Cruise. I don't get his appeal, but could not really define why. Taylor's summary is perfect: Cruise is a movie star, not an actor.

-- April Spraggins

In Charles Taylor's sweeping denouncement of Tom Cruise's career, he calls Cruise and "everything else in ['Rain Man']," a film that won four Oscars, including Best Picture, "lousy," then says Cruise's widely praised and Golden Globe-winning performance in "Magnolia" was so unwatchable, he actually "felt sorry" from Cruise. Listen, I'm far from Cruise's biggest fan. I've found his performances ranging from impressive to mediocre, and if the gossip rags are to be believed, he's not much of a great guy to boot. But the fact of the matter is that many, many people, including some very reputable critics and awards voters, think Tom Cruise is an excellent actor. Taylor is well within his right to disagree, even to think that Cruise is worthless. But to not even acknowledge there might be another point of view, to implicitly treat Cruise's fans as idiots or nonentities, is the height of arrogance.

-- Stephen Tiszenkel

Thank you, Charles Taylor! For years, I have been baffled by Tom Cruise's celebrity. To me, he seems to be the embodiment of mediocrity. How refreshing to finally read an article about this actor that acknowledges his lack of anything extraordinary: He's good looking in an unexceptional way, he's a very limited actor who specializes in a kind of generic intensity, and he's incapable of connecting with other performers to create any real spontaneity. Somehow, none of that seems to matter.

-- Rachel Combs

Actually, I have seen a comic do a Tom Cruise impression: Ben Stiller nails the vacuousness of the familiar gestures you mention -- the nod, the smirk --in an old "Saturday Night Live" parody of "The Color of Money." I haven't seen this short since it aired back in, I don't know, '86. I was a teenage boy then, still in the thrall of "Risky Business"'s "what every white boy off the lake wants" wish-fulfillment fantasy. Tom Cruise still seemed pretty cool to me. Then I stayed up late to watch TV one Saturday night. I haven't viewed Cruise in the same light since.

-- Wade Krueger

Whatever you want to say about Tom Cruise, he has held his own, from an early age, against the likes of Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Jon Voight, and Gene Hackman. He is, like most true stars, magnetic in a way that transcends acting. Stars as diverse as Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Clark Gable, and, more recently, Keanu Reeves (the Dietrich of our time), Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt couldn't act their way out of a paper bag. Rather, they have a persona that somehow radiates from the screen in a way that a mere "actor" is incapable of. Cruise has this quality in spades. To state that an embarrassed Cruise would be afraid to act against the likes of Jamie Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith (two up-and-coming stars who would hardly give Laurence Olivier a run for his money), is ludicrous in the extreme. One flash of that brash Cruise smile and those two punks dissolve into air.

The problematic aspects of the Cruise persona, the narcissism, the need for complete control, the inability to relax, the lack of humor and the callowness, are there for all to see. When properly recognized, utilized, manipulated and commented upon, by a director of merit, the result is usually fine. When unacknowledged and allowed to run rampant, as in the atrocious "Last Samurai," the result is unwatchable. Also, Cruise's essential optimism (a rare and admirable trait in the movies these days) works against any attempt at "drama" on his part. When he weeps and snivels in despair in an attempt to prove that he can "act," it looks as fake as that horrible scene of Dietrich crying and groveling to Tyrone Power at the end of "Witness for the Prosecution." It just ain't right.

Taylor is correct to note that Cruise is not an essentially "relating" performer, although he fails to note that not many truly great actors and stars are. Unlike, say, a Hoffman or a Hackman, it seems unlikely that Cruise will be able to carve out a career as a character actor once he ages and loses that luster. However, I have noticed that, during his career, Cruise has seemed most relaxed, and done some of his best acting, when he hides his face. I thought he was terrible in "Born on the Fourth of July," until, towards the end, he got all hairy and hippy and scraggly, and then, behind the beard, he, for the first time in his career, played, and played well, a character other than himself. He was great in "The Vampire Lestat," the only film in which Cruise, the most asexual of sex symbols, let something of a sexual persona emerge. And in the otherwise terrible "Vanilla Sky," Cruise, whose voice has never been very expressive, was terrific as the man behind the mask. Perhaps he has a future as the new Lon Chaney

-- Michael Hinerman

Poor Tom Cruise. He's so pretty, and so much wants to be a respected actor. The problem is that he can never relax and inhabit the role he's in. I can never see him in a movie without thinking, "That's Tom Cruise playing whoever," and it seems like he is so afraid of losing himself that he must constantly broadcast his selfness. Charles Taylor may have found a way to get over his annoyingness, but I still sigh resignedly even seeing trailers for films he appears in.

-- Jessica Gauthier

The best analogue that I can come up with is Harrison Ford. He managed to pull of an impish, scoundrelly, rakish charm in "American Graffiti," "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones." Then he turned into the most boring actor in the world. But I'm not sure that Cruise ever managed even the hint of danger that Ford mustered.

-- Dan Unger

Rather than Troy Donahue Cruise reminds me of the highest-paid actress of the '30s -- Deanna Durbin. Who? Exactly.

-- R. Wright

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