Vincent – Collateral
Before playing Vincent, the cold-blooded, stone-hearted hitman facing off against Jamie Foxx’s cab driver, Tom Cruise had rarely played any role which wasn’t crammed with likeability and heroism. But as the blockbuster opportunities quietened and age began to rear its head, Cruise cleverly changed his career path onto a treacherous route of playing a character that is a polar opposite to his usual typecast.
Undoubtedly a gamble, but one that paid off. Cruise brought a steely, uncompromising magnetism to his silver haired, sharp suited killer. In any other film from the genre, the main character would always be the good guy, but in Michael Mann’s Collateral, Tom Cruise steals the show.
Les Grossman – Tropic Thunder
There are great cameo performances and then there is Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. He is unrecognisable at first. Partly due to the costume of an overweight, balding, gorilla-handed mogul, but also due to Cruise’s extremely energetic body grinds and sporadic screaming fits when faced with the slightest of inconveniences from his soppy assistant.
Cruise as Grossman is grimy, hilarious and profoundly shocking in the performance that proved he can do funny just as well as he can do serious.
Charlie Babbitt – Rain Man
Essentially a road movie, Rain Man see’s Cruise in a profoundly emotional drama. After a string of testosterone fuelled action films, he was at the stage in his career where he could have easily slipped into only obtaining roles similar to his previous efforts, as many actors do. Fortunately, Barry Levinson’s Rain Man was the perfect role for Cruise to express his diversity and show us that he can perform alongside the best – in this case Dustin Hoffman as his estranged autistic brother Raymond.
All eyes are on Hoffman and rightly so for his outstanding performance, but Cruise supports him with a mature and refined subtlety. Pacino-esque at times with his outbursts and uncontrollable frustration as the ill-advised brother, but where other actors may have challenged Hoffman for the spotlight, instead Cruise understands the importance of strong support.
Ray Ferrier – War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds is not Steven Spielberg’s most applauded work, but if you give it a chance it has a lot to offer. Take away the invading Martians (and their skin crawling, alien fog horns of terror) and you are left with a heartfelt family drama, headed by Cruise in one of the finest and most realistic acting performances ever committed to film.
Through Spielberg’s immaculate direction and Cruise’s convincing display – supported maturely by Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin – War of the Worlds becomes a compelling story, and much like Orson Welles‘s radio broadcast, one that engrosses you completely due to the magic of the acting and storytelling.
Frank T.J. Mackey – Magnolia
Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson’s signature film: a four hour long masterpiece which not only informed all of his later works but influenced many other filmmakers too. The story revolves around a number of seemingly unrelated individuals all at crossroads in their lives. The umbrella above them all is one of coincidence as they all gradually meet or cross paths as their problems unfold.
Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey is just one of the many great actors who put in the performance of a lifetime, but his is especially memorable. Although given less screen time than others, his impact is instant and lasts long in the memory.
Starting out as a slick haired, leather clad motivational speaker, Mackey is promoting his self-help programme which demands that his room full of hopeless disciples “Respect the cock and tame the cunt”.
Oozing confidence and completely lacking in morals and respect, it is only until a curious reporter questions his upbringing and relationship with his father that Mackey begins to show signs of insecurity.
He eventually implodes, culminating his short lived but ferocious character arc from self-proclaimed woman-magnet to sad and lonely emotional wreck.
A masterful display in his most engaging role to date, many would struggle to attain this in the span of a career whereas Cruise does it in 30 minutes.