Cinemalphabet: K is for Knight and Day (2010)
At some point between the release of 1996’s Mission: Impossible and Jerry Maguire I discovered I could predict future Tom Cruise trends based on what I knew about his upcoming releases. Granted, I could not give pertinent details such as box office grosses or where he might holiday with his family, but I could predict things such as potential co-stars (I had Thandie Newton as his M:I2 co-star before I’d even left the screening of the first installment of the franchise) and general trends. I have always believed Cruise’s persona was carefully constructed in a way that is much more sophisticated than many stars’ audiences are used to. Personally, I don’t think any incarnation of Cruise’s persona is in fact representative of Cruise himself, but I do think they tend to represent areas of concern he opts to explore on screen.
That said, the performance of his which seems closest to approximating what I think is his persona is the surprisingly nuanced turn he gave in Stanley Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut. Being well-versed in the careers of every single other person in the film—particularly my favorite director the late Sydney Pollack—I’m pretty sure Cruise is the only person not doing a heap of acting in that film. Cruise tends to work for directors I enjoy (Pollack, Woo, Kubrick, Levinson, De Palma, Mann, The Scott Bros). which makes me a de facto Cruise fan. A position I feel less incline to resist, because while I might find some of the press bothersome, I don’t mind him as much as other stars of similar irritant levels. This doesn’t mean I’m unaware of his problematic behavior or the way in which he grates on other people with good taste in cinema.
It seems as though Cruise is going through a transition phase before going back to being a “boyscout” (a fourth installment of Mission: Impossible is slated for release in 2011), but like most transitional phases, this one’s a bit difficult. Knight and Day is a film seeking to correct the wrongs perpetrated by Killers—a similarly themed and vastly inferior product—but does not realize it takes more than bigger celebrities, better CGI and a bigger budget. Like Killers the Cruise-Diaz film does not adhere to the conventions of the trope and well, it’s just not very entertaining.
Despite all the press his bizarre antics receive, I’ve never observed Cruise being able to effectively leverage those memes into meaty analysis of his own persona on screen. He’s not good at being “bizarre”; he’s good at playing boy scouts and snarky leads. He’s surprisingly adept at shrinking himself to fit the requirements of ensemble cast work (see: Magnolia where he was sublime). Cruise can run the gamut of nasty: from straightforward meanness (again see: Magnolia and Collateral) to campy snarkiness and is actually fun in these kinds of roles even if the films themselves are a hot mess (see: Interview with the Vampire, where again, Cruise gave a great, campy performance in contrast to Pitt’s stilted overly earnest one.)
That said, unraveling over a decade’s worth of steady audience alienation is a lot to ask of a few well-received public appearances, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt Cruise to try. Cashing in on the controversial bizarre behavior, featuring sexist, ableist and arrogant outbursts on what used seemed to be a daily basis is risky business. The writers play around with the tarnished persona in a way I find profoundly disturbing and unsuccessful.
Now, I might have missed some of the nuances, what with the plot blowing up all over the screen, but I don’t really think the writers accomplished their mission of meta-critique on fallen stars, perceived persona or whatever the hell else they sought to analyze through this tedious waste of film. However, I do seem to remember feeling annoyed at the number of times really objectionable behavior was framed as humor and therefore not considered something one shouldn’t take too seriously. I’m sorry, when did the antics of misanthropes and sociopaths become so hilarious? I know, Seinfeld.