- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
When asked at Cannes on Wednesday, for the umpteenth time, why he insists on performing his own stunts despite the danger, Tom Cruise answered by referencing a screen legend from a bygone era. “No one asked Gene Kelly, ‘Why do you dance?’” Cruise said, at the tribute conversation moderated by French journalist Didier Allouch. “Why do you do your own dancing?’”
Cruise likening himself to Kelly, one of the best athletes of Hollywood’s golden era, is a fair comparison. From the star sliding across the floor in his underwear at age 21 in 1983’s Risky Business to buckling into jets and withstanding g-forces in his late 50s for aeronautical maneuvers in Top Gun: Maverick, which premiered at the festival Wednesday night ahead of its global opening May 25, Cruise has always thrown his body into his work.
But for someone who lately reveals so little of the person behind the persona, Cruise’s comparison to Kelly was telling in another way: It shows how he sees himself today, as akin to a species of entertainer that is now endangered, if not nearly extinct. Cruise is a movie star who does no TV and no comic book movies, who’s never sharing an “authentic” moment in the weight room on Instagram or a quickly dashed-off political rant on Twitter. In a movie business grappling with the dizzying change of streaming and social media, Cruise is now playing by rules that worked in Kelly’s era: Tap dance your ass off and get them into the theater. Audiences don’t want to know the “real” you; give them the gorgeous archetype.
The release for Maverick was pushed back several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lest there be any confusion about Cruise’s commitment to the business model that made him a star, his most emphatic and, frankly, nearly the only direct answer of the tribute conversation came in response to Allouch’s question about whether Paramount would ever have sold the Top Gun sequel to a streaming service rather than wait for theatergoing to resume. “That was not going to happen ever,” Cruise said. “That was never going to happen.”
Cruise, like Steven Spielberg, Chris Nolan, James Cameron and a handful of other Hollywood holdouts, almost all of them directors, sees theaters as part of the definition of what makes something a movie. “I understand the business,” Cruise said. “But there’s a very specific way to make movies for cinema, and I make movies for the big screen. It is a different skill writing a movie than something for television. It’s a whole different skill set.”
Even by the extravagant standards of Cannes, the festival’s reception of Cruise and his movie was wildly over-the-top. Eight French fighter jets zoomed above the premiere, expelling smoke in red and blue to match the colors of the French (and American) flag. Before the film screened, festival director Thierry Frémaux introduced a 13-minute clip reel of the star’s filmography, eliciting a standing ovation, and then presented him with a surprise Palme d’Or, inspiring another. A third, six-minute ovation followed the film, along with an explosion of fireworks over the beach.
Cruise, the consummate showman, had come to the festival that delivers spectacle like no other, and it was clear that both festival and star needed each other. People were clapping for Cruise, but also for what he represents — glamour, escape and the discipline of an old-fashioned movie star, now 59 and still carrying a flame for a business that nearly flickered out during the pandemic.
As gracious as he was at the premiere, Cruise was also frustratingly evasive during the conversation with Allouch, returning to the same two or three anecdotes and phrases in response to nearly every question. Talking extemporaneously has not always worked out well for the star, as when he jumped on Oprah’s couch in 2005, ecstatically proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes and appearing, to many, completely unhinged. Cruise’s advocacy of Scientology and opposition to psychiatry have alienated him from some of his audience, and he is no longer talking about these topics publicly, perhaps because he’s getting some excellent advice from his publicist.
The Cruise we got at Cannes is not the one who jumps on couches, but the one who gets us off of ours and back into movie theaters. The Cruise we got at Cannes is still dashingly handsome at a photocall and charming in a soundbite. But it surely wasn’t the real Tom Cruise. That man may never show himself to us again, if he ever did. Instead, Cruise seems inclined to just keep on tap dancing.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day