Tom Cruise Has Entered His Alejandro González Iñárittu Era, and We Have Never Been More Back

Yesterday, early evening, if you were listening closely, an odd call went out across the country. It was the collective groan of dads, uncles, and weird older guys who really shouldn’t be on apps anymore, making that noise we all make as we get up, to cheer and celebrate the news that our beautiful boy, Glenwood Ridge High School’s own Thomas Mapother IV—the Tom we all know and love, the actor who informed our youths, adolescences, and early adulthoods—was coming back to us. The word is Tom will star in the next Alejandro González Iñárittu project, A.I.G.’s first since getting Leonardo DiCaprio his long overdue Best Actor statue for The Revenant. And please, hater— please, skeptic. We understand your mileage varies on Iñárittu, but this news isn’t significant simply because Cruise is about to link with this specific filmmaker. Reading the tea leaves, it’s what it could mean for America’s begotten son going forward.

If you’re, let’s say, a person younger than 25 without a Paramount+ subscription, unfamiliar with the formative cinematic American media of the 80s and 90s, or just generally incurious, you may not be aware that at one time, Tom Cruise wasn’t just the box-office driver he is today, but a very serious, capital-A Actor. He more or less invented the modern Hollywood playbook, a heartthrob with chops who committed totally to each part, who gave us classic “fluff” like Days of Thunder and Cocktail, but beginning in the late 80s, always mixed prestige chocolate into the crowd pleasing peanut butter, and at his absolute best, pulled off both at once.

Here is a partial list of the directors Cruise worked with during his still-untouchable 20-year run, from the early ’80s through the early aughts: Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley & Tony Scott, Martin Scorsese, Barry Levinson, Oliver Stone, Rob Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Brian De Palma, Cameron Crowe, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Woo, Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann—he worked with everyone, ok? Everyone. He was a quick study, beloved by each of these incredible directors, even when they willfully fucked with his head and destroyed his marriaged to Nicole Kidman for fun, and for all his pain and sacrifice, what did he get? Two Best Actor nominations, one Best Supporting Actor nomination, and three Golden Globes.

It was following a prolonged spate of rejection, presumably the first sustained stretch Tom ever endured in his life, that the wheels began to come off his golden-boy persona. It was uncomfortably, increasingly linked to Scientology, and there are likely several timelines that ended in cancellation, had Tom been less savvy and self-aware. There were ugly details that leaked, first from his divorce from Kidman after a decade of what had been presented in the semi-civil pre-internet tabloid days as a fairytale Hollywood partnership. Then five years later, he married Katie Holmes, generally regarded as a WB ingenue, a relationship that had an odd, seemingly PR-contrived quality everyone was unsettled by. There were several public meltdowns, from Oprah’s couch to Tom calling Matt Lauer “glib” while denying modern psychiatry and medicine.

In 2004, Cruise turned in one of his best performances, and films, in Collateral, a two-hander with Jamie Foxx in which, for the first and more-or-less-only time in his career, he plays a deliciously evil, charmingly sociopathic marrow-deep bad guy. But in 2005, he worked with Spielberg on the (sorry, but: intensely mid) War of the Worlds, and due to the aforementioned odd behavior in public promoting the film, a rift opened between the two which has only recently begun to mend.

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