With his Napoleon complex, obsessiveness over religious fads, questionable treatment of wives, salary demands, and downright paranoia over maintaining his box office standing, Tom Cruise makes himself an easy target. However, occasionally this actor picks interesting roles and reveals genuine talent.
Cruise started off roughly around the same time as Johnny Depp, and early in their careers the contrast between the two could not have been more pronounced. If anyone was the patron saint of loud, dumb summer blockbusters, it was Cruise. He set the model with Top Gun (1986), and who could forget Cocktail (1988)? That box office bonanza, one of the worst movies of the last half century, is proof that the masses will buy just about any excrement if it is marketed right. Cruise went on to act in and produce Mission Impossible (1996). Despite having Brian De Palma in charge, it was not a good start to the franchise. Yet, the franchise dramatically improved, especially with Ghost Protocol (2011). Depp’s goals were more artistic, and he seemed ill-suited to the blockbuster mentality. However, the distinction between these two box office leviathans has blurred. Depp has become increasingly apathetic, even cartoonish as the star of his own blockbuster franchise, which started off bad and has only gotten worse. Despite a promising early body of work, Depp has gone into autopilot mode, while Cruise only works harder (sometimes too hard). Cruise’s fretting about securing his star status has, for the most part, reaped rewards, while he has expectedly proven his superiority in manning the blockbuster ship. Unexpectedly, Cruise continues to take startling risks at times, even if he does not inspire extended confidence with a planned Top Gun sequel, yet another Mission Impossible, or a here-we-go-again version of Van Helsing. Still, Cruise may merely be continuing a shrewdly cultivated balancing act and, in doing so, maintaining his ability to surprise.
One such surprise is in the summer sci-fi outing, Edge of Tomorrow (2014). The unoriginal title is hardly promising, nor is the much bandied-about description “Groundhog Day Meets Independence Day.” The clever tagline “Live. Die. Repeat.” suggests a video game. Numerous critics have made the comparison, but director Doug Liman and a trio of writers (Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Christopher McQuarrie) take a self-conscious, witty approach in spirit of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novella “All You Need Is Kill,” on which the screenplay is based.
As soldier Cage, Cruse abandons his normal poster boy persona with relish. He is a coward and reluctant hero, mercilessly bullied by his Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton, impressing again). Predictably, Cage manages to get himself killed in war with the alien Mimics. Only, these extraterrestrial neo-Fascists revive him time and again, in an attempt to study the battle techniques of humans. As in a video game, even death is not a finality; and while under normal circumstances comparing a movie to something out of Nintendo is no compliment, here it is that looping, arcade-styled aesthetic the filmmakers first mimic, then cleverly divert from.
Cruise’s Cage is nearly matched by Emily Blunt’s Rita. It is a rarity for Cruise to have a vital female lead and, like her character, Blunt inspires him into something transformative. Almost as surprising as Cruise is in an atypical role, Blunt is equally so, even though her part is still secondary. It may be a minuscule quibble, given the excellent work of the two leads. Cruise has securely returned to his torch-carrying, old-fashioned move star mold. It is a welcome return. An unsatisfactory third act almost threatens to dismantle the film, but, thankfully, fails.
The sublime Groundhog Day was awash in romantic spirituality and originality. Edge of Tomorrow takes a more visceral route, aided considerably by Don Beebe’s cinematography which consciously pays homage to Spielberg’s WWII opus Saving Private Ryan. This does not mean that Edge Of Tomorrow is brainless. Alas, it might have been more profitable if it had been. American audiences, who rarely can form syllables or go beyond spoon fed formula, have mostly stayed away and Edge of Tomorrow is expected to be a box office flop, having been quashed by Disney’s umpteenth retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”
As the saying goes: one will never go broke underestimating the intelligence (or taste) of the American public.