Perhaps unfairly, we have become a movie-going public that judges performances on the love/hate we feel for the actors in real life. Judging by the pretty scathing reviews for Tom Cruise‘s Valkyrie so far (with soundbites from the mean “There’s a gaping hole at the center of ‘Valkyrie,’ and his name is Tom Cruise” to the punny/vaguely offensive “‘Valkyrie’ lacks the Reich Stuff”), Cruise is perhaps the most extreme example of the way that public perception of celebrities can affect the way we feel about their films regardless of the actual quality of the movies themselves.
It’s like how some people loved to hate everything Woody Allen did from 1999 to 2003, before he became legit again with Match Point.
“Tom Cruise is perfectly satisfactory, if not electrifying, in the leading role,” writes Roger Ebert in the only positive review of Valkyrie we could find, and the only one which confronts the problem of “celeb hate = movie hate” head-on. Trying to offer a possible explanation for the “blizzard of negative advance buzz” being fired at Cruise’s fine performance, he says, “Movie publicity is now driven by gossip, scandal and the eagerness of fanboys and girls to attract attention by posing as critics of movies they’ve almost certainly not seen. Now that the movie is here, the buzz is irrelevant, but may do residual damage.” He might just be one [cranky and controversial] reviewer among many, but we think he has a point.
When we tried to think of the last leading-man role that Cruise had, we drew a blank. Sure, he was fantastic in his Golden-Globe-nominated performance in Tropic Thunder, but when was the last time he wowed us as a protagonist? Valkyrie is his chance to be redeemed after a string of un-noteworthy films (Lions for Lambs? War of the Worlds?) and Scientology-related couch-jumping and overall heard-round-the-world creepiness. But the unamused public might want him so badly to fail, that they won’t even give him a chance–and movie reviews might just be reflecting this general disdain. Critics are calling Cruise out for practically ruining an otherwise OK film, and they probably won’t get any nicer.
Not that we are rooting for him, but shouldn’t performances exist in a sort of vacuum that doesn’t include all the crap celebrities do in their life? Look at Mickey Rourke’s success in The Wrestler–critics are willing to forgive his general weirdness because of his spectacular performance. So why can’t it work the other way around?