Cruise Reviews #1: War of the Worlds


Most of the local talk about Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds isn’t promising. The general consensus claims it was “a good horror flick but not much plot.”

With the film poised for its DVD release, I agree and disagree, although the film depended significantly on Tom Cruise’s ability as an actor, testing his talents in a way no other film had previously.

Cruise has never been a convincing emotional actor. One less than kind local film critic called him “a movie star, not an actor.”

Even in his better films such as “Rain Man” and “The Color of Money,” Cruise has generally played a light weight foil against whom the heavy weights act.

In “Rain Man,” Cruise played a convincing morally devoid entrepreneur who abducts a retarded brother in order to black mail the lawyers into giving up a piece of his deceased father’s inheritance.

Although the movie calls for a dramatic change of character – from selfish to caring – Cruise doesn’t deliver it.

This is not completely his fault. The script cops out.

Cruise’s character is never confronted with having to choose between his personal ambition and his brother’s welfare. So the character we see at the end of the film is modified, but missing the sharp emotional moment that would have made the Cruise character more memorable, and given Cruise more status as an actor.

As will be detailed in a future essay, Cruise’s best sustained performance is in “Jerry McGuire,” although for the most part it is “Rain Man” with out the Rain Man, relying on Cruise and well-written plot. Yet, even here, Cruise isn’t forced into the emotional choice necessary to bring out the actor in him.

Cruise’s performance in “The Color of Money” is so much like his behavior on the Ophra Show that one wonders if he recreated the character in order to convince his adoring public that he really was in love – and with a woman.

Despite all the accolades heaped on “The Color of Money,” it is a far inferior film to “The Hustler” of which it is a supposed sequel. As in “Rain Main,” this is a failing of the script, which refuses to test Cruise or Paul Newman the way the first film challenged Newman. Cruise remains largely the same whacky character throughout, unlike the Newman character in the original.

Cruise’s performances in Mission Impossible and Minority Report are so similar, you might suspect the character was transported through time. While Minority Report is a clever and original film and Mission Impossible a cliché ridden piece of puff, neither role challenges Cruise as an actor, since both are plot driven with characterization hung upon the plot like ornaments,

Hardly Shakespeare.

War of the Worlds differs sharply from any previous film in which I have seen Cruise act. While – contrary to many opinions – it has a plot, it is one of the most basic plots in Western Literature: Here to There.

The movie is primarily driven not on plot, but on character, character relationships and symbolism.

This is a film that – despite its elaborate special effects – is totally dependant on Tom Cruise’s ability to perform. It is a film that is completely focused on Cruise’s character, and his seen through his eyes, his emotions and his imagination.

This is totally new landscape for the 40-something-year-old-actor-in-love, a transition of the kind Bogart went through when evolving out of gangster flicks.

The fact that the film is seen as a science fiction or horror film detracts from the drama. Viewers come to it with expectations generated out of the genre and may seem disappointed when those expectations aren’t completely met. Perhaps they would have had a different reaction had this been a realistic film depicting the Cruise character as a victim of 9/11.

In War of the Worlds, Cruise plays a happy-go-lucky character whose world is suddenly7 turned upside down by an invasion of alien beings and he is forced into a series of choices neither the actor nor the character has confronted before.

The script presents the character with an escalating series of choices that expands the emotional landscape that Cruise must play.

The character starts out cocky, becomes fearful, then stunned, after which he goes through confusion, and eventually resolve. The character is struggling to gain control of his personal world, and Cruise must play this against a backdrop of a horror film. While many in the audience are gawking at the cheap thrills – and perhaps expect the typical nonchalant Cruise character – we get a character and actor in significant change.

For me, no moment in any Cruise film reaches the emotional pinnacle of when he is singing the old Beach Boys tune to Dakota Fanning.

This is like no Cruise performance we have seen to date and perhaps will never see again (considering his return to the Mission Impossible genre) and yet one in which Cruise finally made that dramatic transition from movie star to actor, if only for one brief shinning moment most of the viewing public missed.


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