Tom Cruise, Running Man

Warner Bros

By Jamie Bircoll, Daily Film Editor
Published June 11, 2014

Of the 37 screen credits to his name, Tom Cruise runs significantly in 19 of them: 19 glorious, unencumbered sprints at varying velocities, each one with its own definitive qualities. Take “Mission Impossible IV,” where Cruise runs at a 90-degree angle down a building, or “The Firm,” where Cruise gallops at blistering speeds in a suit and suspenders whilst carrying a briefcase, or “Collateral,” in which Cruise runs doing his best “Tom Cruise as the Terminator” impression. With the release of “Edge of Tomorrow,” Cruise will go for a run again, and again, and again. Each charge carries a certain bravura, an aesthetic quality that translates to an art form: you want to run like Tom Cruise, you need to run like Tom Cruise.

But Mr. Thomas Mapother IV brings something else to his films: exceptional star power. For the last 30 years, no actor has commanded the screen quite like him: not Hugh Jackman, not Brad Pitt, not Leonardo DiCaprio and not George Clooney. Because each of those actors can bring toughness or subtlety or charisma to the table, but none of them do it with Cruise's brand of flare. No matter the genre, no matter how bad the movie (“Rock of Ages”), you're in for a spectacle when Cruise steps forward.

It’s a brand really, the Tom Cruise film; his characters tend to have similar trademark characteristics: the whisper turned shout, the aforementioned running, the smile and the dazed stare with mouth agape, a look that radiates a quiet yet burning intensity. And every character has those traits because that's what you want to see, because Cruise looks so damn cool doing them.

But still, even in the action films, his characters are rarely one-dimensional franchise drivers. Ethan Hunt of “Mission Impossible” is constantly balancing his drive for justice with his desire to have a personal life, and you can see the pain in his eyes when one or both of those goals don't work out. Vincent of “Collateral,” Cruise's finest, most over-looked role, is a sleek, philosophizing killer with scars from his past and an unusual desire to motivate others into organizing their own life goals — it's a complicated role that Cruise balances perfectly. His smaller, supporting parts from “The Outsiders” to “Tropic Thunder” are always captivating.

And of course there are his award-caliber performances in “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Magnolia," “Jerry Maguire” and “A Few Good Men.” Those credits combined with a resume that includes working with such directors as Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson, among others, yield a successful, notable and impressive body of work.

Surprisingly, with “Edge of Tomorrow,” many critics are hailing Cruise for his expansion into new acting territory as a coward rather than a hero — at the age of 51, with more than 30 years of work and with enough success that'd make a less motivated actor complacent, Cruise can still break new ground for himself.

Yes, maybe Cruise’s ego occasionally writes a check you don't really want to cash, maybe he seems a little off every now and again, but the guy does pretty much always deliver — these last few years, his films haven't been quite up-to-par with most of his previous works, but Cruise nothing if not resilient.

I don't know if I'd call Cruise an artist, maybe a performer with flashes of artistry, like Sonny & Cher, but he deserves credit where credit is due: for changing the action genre with "Mission Impossible" and again with “Minority Report,” for the 80s classics “Risky Business” (and the joke that is “Top Gun”) and for defining the modern romantic comedy in “Jerry Maguire,” but perhaps most importantly for providing audiences with an unparalleled sort of entertainment for thirty years.

Cruise knows what he is, and the public should know too. He’s a personality, an entertainer and sometimes even a caricature, and he’s fantastic at what he does. Ever self-aware, his twitter bio states the following: actor, producer, running in movies since 1981. Here’s to many more Cruise — keep on running.