By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 25, 2010 at 3:07PM
While this weekend's "Knight & Day" is on the early track towards being a bomb (or at least to be totally fair, it's underwhelmed so far) and is surely not Tom Cruise's finest work by a long shot (though it does have its charms), the picture does remind us that the while an international star, the consistently maligned actor (perhaps for his personal Xenu beliefs and pitbull-like handlers) is a) a much better, harder working actor then he is generally given credit for and b) generally a much more compelling one when he's taking roles that subvert his all-American, good-looking hero mien (now if only James Mangold's action comedy would have stuck to its guns and let Cruise stick to his insane character for the entire film instead of copping out midway through).
While his box-office clout does seem to be in doubt — there's been rumbling that a "Knight & Day" poor showing may affect the outcome of "Mission Impossible 4" — we're more concerned with what ends up on the screen.
While different aspects of his body of work appeal to different audiences (indie kids naturally swoon over "Magnolia" cause of the PTA association), The Playlist decided to check in on the films in a feature we cheekily decided to call "His Most Tolerable Films" (he does do solid work in the right roles with the right directors). So without further ado, what you could also call our favorite, errr, more interesting Tom Cruise performances (give or take a few moments). Don't get it twisted, we're not necessarily huge fans, but as always, we give credit where credit is due.
Before his second divorce, TomKat-foolery and jumping on Oprah's couch incident, Tom Cruise was a star. Best known for action packed dramas and pithy rom-coms, Cruise proved himself as an actor with his performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious third feature-film where he played misogynistic self-help author Frank T.J. Mackey. Cruise scored a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for his rich multi-layered portrayal of Mackey, whose catchphrase "tame the cunt" was haunting when uttered. Frighteningly authentic, Cruise was able to balance the dichotomy of an intolerant sexist, and at the same time a wounded boy thanks to his unloving father who ditched him and his mother years ago. As his character comes to terms with his ailing father, which would be Jason Robards' last role, we watch Cruise show the true depth of his range, and it's gripping. Later, thanks to the many media scuffles Cruise has gone through, you might wonder if "Magnolia" was actually an acting performance or the first time Cruise ever let his true self shine through. We'll never know and this is probably why it's so damn successful.
"Tropic Thunder" (2008)
Ok, while the idea of an entire Les Grossman film is a little much (this idea works because like the dynamics of a middle eight in a song, more is less), but the otherwise underwhelming "Tropic Thunder" was greatly bolstered by the actor's image-demolishing turn as a tumescent, bald, hirsute f-bomb dropping dbag film producer (modeled after Joel Silver). Sure the amazing dialogue (or amazing litany of creative vulgarities) helped, but Cruise definitely sold the character, swung for the fences and connected with his greasy, slimebag portrayal (surely he's been around enough of these power-hungry, megalomanical characters before). The fact that Cruise out-funnied and out-acted Robert Downey Jr. playing an Australian thespian playing an African American character in skin-modified method-acting dedication (what a missed opportunity that was) was not lost on discerning viewers either.