Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tropic Thunder: Tom Cruise is still brilliant

I hadn't seen Tropic Thunder until yesterday afternoon and again this morning, so I heard the buzz about the film before actually experiencing it firsthand. A brief summary of things I've heard and you must have heard too: it's a pretty good movies, there are these fake trailers before the film, Robert Downey Junior gives an Oscar-worthy performance as an Australian actor posing as a black actor and never breaking character, and Tom Cruise has a hilarious cameo.

With regard to the last two points, I found Robert Downey Jr. to be a pretty interesting character, but Tom Cruise practically owns the movie. Can we take a moment to acknowledge that whether you love or hate him as an actor, Tom Cruise lasted as a star not because he's a great actor (good but not great, in my opinion) but because he's always made smart picks as to which movies to be in. That's in fact, why he's been a successful producer in addition to being a movie star.

Even with his career derailed by a blotched interview with Matt Lauer and 30 seconds on a couch with Oprah, Cruise is incredibly smart at choosing which roles to take at the right time. And this is no easy thing to do when the entire nation has suddenly gone from adoring you for 25 years to practically losing all faith in you, and you're depending on them for ticket dollars. Two of the first three films Cruise did post-Oprah Gate were incredibly safe choices. Mission Impossible III was a sequel: Even if you don't like the Tom Cruise of today, you used to like Tom Cruise and you can't deny liking Mission Impossible, so that would get the newly converted Cruise haters to the theater and it pretty much did so: Scoring $47 million opening weekend (word of mouth might have killed its overall gross, but opening weekend gross is based on how successful the marketing is, so i'll cite that figure). In Valkyrie, Tom Cruise is basically pleading with audiences to come with this logic: "Yes, America, I know you think I'm nuts, but I'm trying to kill Hitler in this film. You have to root for me to kill Hitler, right?"

While the general movie going public is still deciding whether Tom Cruise is crazy or not, Cruise dives headfirst into a role that covers the same territory as some of these perceptions and that's so potentially dangerous. It would be like if Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe did a passionate romantic film together after he broke up her marriage to Dennis Quaid by seducing her on the set of Proof of Life. Nonetheless, Cruise's producer character is an excellent, spot-on, and unique comic creation. It also is inaccurate to say it's just a cameo. He was in quite a bit of the film. I was baffled by Hollywood Foreign Press' decision to give Tom Cruise a best supporting actor nomination, but I might just have to agree that if we're (by we, I mean, the Oscars, Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics Assosiation, etc.) going to put Rob Downey Jr. in the best supporting actor category, then Tom Cruise as equally as deserving of a supporting actor nomination this year.

What's more, Tropic Thunder also features Matthew McConaughey and Nick Nolte in the best roles I've ever seen them in (although I don't think I've seen Nick Nolte in a lot of roles, come to think of it). McConaughey plays an agent who is willing to fight tooth-and-nail to get his client Tivo while Nolte is the movie-within-a-movie's screenwriter (or rather the novelist that the film is based off of or whatever you call it) of the film, who originally claims to have wrote the book off his war experiences. One of the film's big reveals is that his character WAS in the military, but not so much a combatant but a sanitation engineer for the Coast Guard.

If I were in charge of the SAG best ensemble nominations, I might be tempted to include Tropic Thunder in that category.

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