It’s Time To Start Rooting For Tom Cruise Again

EDGE OF TOMORROW is so good, it might make you rethink your position on Tom Cruise. And it should.

Here's how it goes from my perspective: in 1980, I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1981, Tom Cruise landed his first major role, starring in a feature film called Endless Love.

One of my first memories occurs four years later: en route to the movies (to catch what will turn out to be an unexpectedly traumatic screening of Gremlins), I ask my dad what year it is. Tom Cruise, meanwhile, has gone on to star in half a dozen films, including Taps, The Outsiders, All The Right Moves and a megahit called Risky Business.

1986 rolls around, and I really start paying attention to movies. I see Top Gun. I don't know who the toothy tough guy is at the center of the film, but - like any discerning 6 year-old with an appetite for Simpson/Bruckheimer spectacle - I could tell just by looking at the dude that he had the goods. He seemed born for the screen, and everyone seemed thankful to have him there. That same year, Tom Cruise becomes the personification of the term "movie star."

He's unstoppable, then. Cocktail, Rain Man, Born on The 4th of July, Days of Thunder - my god, Days of Thunder - they're all hits. By this point, I'm going to the movies by myself. And by the time I really start getting serious about this "film geek" thing (I don't even recall that term existing back then), Tom Cruise is generally considered to be the world's biggest movie star, a blockbuster-makin' machine; a dude the ladies wanna kiss and the dudebros want to get hammered with, even when frolicking on a beach to the sweet, sweet strains of Kokomo:

Like so many others, I grew up alongside Tom Cruise's ascent as a movie star, so it's amazing to regularly find myself in conversation with younger people who don't really remember a time when Tom Cruise was the real deal. Far as they're concerned, he's spent more time being "that weirdo who jumped on a couch once OMGLOLWTF so random."

We could sit around all day debating how and why this sea change in public perception occurred. We'd touch on the "Oprah thing," the "Scientology thing," the "possibly keeping Katie Holmes locked in a tower somewhere thanks to a cleverly-worded pre-nup" thing. We'd talk about how many clear hits Cruise's filmography contains versus genuine bombs (look it up; huge chunks of it read like one great actor's "Best of" list). We'd talk about whether or not it's fair to have fallen out of love with Cruise because of his off-screen behavior: doesn't any real relationship we have to the World's Biggest Movie Star begin and end with his on-screen performances? Who are we to judge - I mean, is the shit Scientologists believe really that much crazier than what Southern Baptists, Mormons, Catholics or Hindus (or any other major religion) believe? And fucking Magnolia, guys: doesn't that count for anything?

We've already had this conversation. It seems to play out about once per year, and every year for the past half dozen years (give or take). In my opinion, the fact that we're always coming from or going into that conversation speaks volumes: it tells me that people are unsure how to feel about Cruise, of course, but I think it also indicates that we sort of miss rooting for the guy. Maybe we're looking for a way back into that relationship. After all, this was Maverick. Cole Trickle. Vincent Lauria. Ron Kovic. Frank T.J. fuckin' Mackie, for God's sake.

How genuinely upset were we about Cruise's personal shenanigans, anyway?

And: how long do we plan on holding onto that hostility?

And: man, say what ya will about the dude, but wasn't he the shit in Collateral?

Indeed, he was the shit in Collateral. Coming right at the height of the public's resounding disdain for each new Cruise vehicle, Collateral proved that - as an actor - Cruise was just as good as he'd always been. Steely-eyed. Badass. Intense. You rooted for him as often as you rooted against him. It's a fantastic performance, and in my mind it's the moment where people really started wondering how long it'd be before they could say, "I like Tom Cruise" in public again without being heckled into a coma. And since then, Cruise has turned in a series of performances that have gone a long way towards smoothing things over with the rest of the crowd (Minority Report, Tropic Thunder, his continuing - and better-by-the-entry - Mission: Impossible franchise), and even with a few misfires (Knight And Day, Rock of Ages) his star has continued to rise. Slowly but surely, everyone seems to be coming to the realization that Tom Cruise never left us; we left him. And we did so - at least partially - for possibly silly reasons.

In the brave new world of 2014, I think many film geeks must be ready to drop the baggage. To openly enjoy seeing Tom Cruise onscreen without fear of mockery from one's peers. To get his back when someone starts shit-talking War of The Worlds again (those assholes are everywhere). To - yes, that's right, Frozen - to just let it go.

And if you agree with that sentiment, if you're ready to root for Tom Cruise again, I cannot recommend Edge of Tomorrow enough.

Ignore the underwhelming, tedious and oddly monochromatic marketing campaign. Ignore the sour taste of Oblivion that's still kicking around the back of your throat, threatening to rise up every time you remember that Tom Cruise is starring in another movie where he fights aliens. Ignore the past 10 years of Doug Liman's filmography. Ignore all the doubt, believe all the hype: Edge of Tomorrow is a monster of a good time, a big, loud, interesting and - most importantly - fun movie. It's everything Oblivion wasn't and then some, and a whole lot of that has to do with Cruise's performance in Edge of Tomorrow.

Devin's got a review of Edge of Tomorrow en route, so I won't dwell on the film itself much. Suffice to say that Cruise is great in the film, and that he puts his usual 120% into the role. The character he's playing - a slick, talking-head PR guy the USMC uses like a weapon in cable news appearances - is far more interesting than we'd been led to believe, and Cruise sells every ounce of him. Unlike the thuddingly lifeless Oblivion or the deeply awkward Rock of Ages, Edge of Tomorrow offers Cruise at his most likable, cheeky, and - when it comes time to do so - ass-kicking. Cruise runs the gamut of "signature Cruise moves" ("The Cruise-ible"?), nailing one scene after another, and through it all you're genuinely rooting for the guy.  This is the same Cruise that showed up in Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut and Vanilla Sky, the one who's all too happy to subvert your expectations about his character, the one willing to be a sniveling prick with a character arc.

It helps that the movie he's starring in is worth rooting for, too. It's been years since Doug Liman made a film I actually enjoyed, but he knocked this one out of the park. Because Cruise always gives a role everything he's got, I've always found him easy to root for. But that'll only get ya so far: it's hard to root for any character if they're trapped in a total trainwreck of a movie. Consider Rock of Ages: the movie itself is painfully awkward and artificial. But I'd defy anyone to watch Cruise's scenes in that film without agreeing that, yes - as overwhelmingly bizarre as it is to see Tom Cruise singing Bon Jovi songs in Jim Morrison's pants - he really is firing on all cylinders.

And let's speak frankly: it's hard to find a performance in Cruise's filmography where he isn't firing on all cylinders. Even in films that ended up being non-starters (Far And Away, The Last Samurai, Lions For Lambs, Valkyrie), Cruise never half-asses a performance. In point of fact, he often makes big, interesting choices (Magnolia, Interview With The Vampire), fully committing to his characters while doing his very best to elevate those around him and the material they're working with (Jack Reacher, Knight And Day). He's strong on his own, but he also works extremely well in a group (Mission: Impossible 3, 4), playing nice with others and letting his co-stars have their own moments to shine. He might not be our greatest actor, but he always tries his hardest to keep us entertained. In turn, we are rarely bored watching him. Isn't this exactly what we want from our Big Movie Stars? That they remain compelling to watch, that they don't phone it in? Edge of Tomorrow proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Tom Cruise is still capable of being that guy.

Maybe I'm just insane, but I'd love to see Cruise continue to make Mission: Impossible movies (assuming they continue the franchise's habit of making interesting choices when hiring its directors). I'd love to see another two decades of Cruise making big, weird choices in projects both likely and unlikely. I'd like to see him work with PT Anderson again (unlikely, perhaps, but an '80s child can dream), or to collaborate with the Coen Brothers or David Fincher. The guy's got energy to burn and the willingness to keep the Cruise brand running for years to come if we'll have him. If he makes another two or three movies as good as Edge of Tomorrow, I think everyone will be happy to do so.

As such, I'm really hoping people will give Edge of Tomorrow a chance. It's a shame the film's marketing campaign was such a bore, because this really is the biggest, most exciting thing that Cruise has done since Ghost Protocol, and I'd hate to see people staying away in droves because they saw the trailers and thought, "Yeah, thanks, but no thanks: I already learned my lesson with Oblivion." The film is smarter than its trailers indicated, much funnier, contains a few excellent set pieces, and is filled to the rafters with great performances (Cruise, of course, but you're also going to love - and I mean love - Bill Paxton, Emily Blunt and Brendan Gleeson). It's a film I swear you will find worth rooting for.

I submit to you that this is the perfect time for everyone to welcome Tom Cruise back into their good graces. We don't get a lot of Big Movie Stars who are willing to work as hard as Tom Cruise is, and I think the majority of reasons we fell out of love with Tom Cruise in the first place are - at their very worst - forgivable. Think back to how much fun it was to root for Cruise in Top Gun, A Few Good Men and Minority Report. We can get there again. And you can start this weekend when Edge of Tomorrow opens in theaters.