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Iain Johnstone Headshot

The Fall and Rise of Tom Cruise

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Forget the Oscar race. Does it really matter if it's Leo or Brad or George or that silent, black-and-white Frenchman? All have already been comprehensively trounced by the return of the people's champion.

As Peter Travers wrote in a recent Rolling Stone, 'If someone asks you what a true movie star is, point to Cruise.' After an acclaimed regal tour of the East, the Emirates and Europe, Tom flew back into the States to rave reviews for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol -- an unheard-of 93% positive on Rotten Tomatoes -- and hundreds of millions of dollars gushing into the box-office faster than neutrinos from the Large Hadron Collider.

For those with short memories this might not seem so surprising, but just six years previously much of the media had regarded Cruise as some sort of manic pariah causing the late Dominic Dunne to headline his Vanity Fair piece: "HAS TOM CRUISE LOST HIS MARBLES?" Tom had recently met the young Dawson's Creek actress, Katie Holmes, and dumped his wise PR guru, Pat Kingsley. This caused him to release his Inner Child which bounced on Oprah Winfrey's sofa proclaiming his love for Katie.

To some this seemed strange behavior for a 43-year-old man who had two adopted children and their mother, Nicole Kidman, who had been unceremoniously dumped a few years previously.

Matters didn't get any better. Cruise implied that Brooke Shields (the star of his first film Endless Love) might have had a better career if she didn't do things like taking Paxil and talking to psychiatrists about her post-partum depression -- "As far as I know, Tom Cruise has never given birth to a baby," the Princeton-educated actress responded -- and telling Matt Lauer on the Today Show: "Here's the problem. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."

This was the last straw for Paula Fortunato, child bride of 83-year-old Sumner Redstone who owned Paramount, and she instructed him to do something. He dutifully announced that Tom's behavior was 'unacceptable to the studio' and dropped him. (If every star whose behaviour was unacceptable to a studio had been dropped over the years, Hollywood would have been a pretty empty place.)

Tom's business partner, Paula Wagner, was married to one of the senior partners of Creative Artists, Rick Nicita, and to save face they were given the largely defunct United Artists. A film, Lions for Lambs, was hastily concocted, with Robert Redford co-starring and directing and Meryl Streep, like Tom a client of Kevin Huvane of CAA, playing a reporter. It didn't get do the trick. The gossip mags were further annoyed with Tom because, although they were given photo ops for the pregnant Katie, when their baby Suri was born on April 16th, 2006, all three of them disappeared until October when Vanity Fair and photographer Annie Liebowitz were given exclusive coverage.

So how did the Cruise career arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes? Surprisingly it was, in part, thanks to Adolf Hitler. The writer, Christopher McQuarrie, and director, Bryan Singer, when they were schoolboys, used to make amateur films about the Second World War in their back gardens in New Jersey. McQuarrie had visited the Bendlerblock in Berlin, which is a memorial to German resistance to the Nazis. In the 'Valkrie' operation, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg tried to blow up Hitler in October 1943. He failed and was executed with his co-conspirators -- celebrated German heroes today. McQuarrie could see an original film.

Being Hollywood hot after his Oscar for The Usual Suspects and knowing Tom and Paula were looking for product, he brought the idea to them. Almost immediately they agreed to finance the film. Cruise wanted to play von Stauffenberg. The timing was good for him to portray a brave, aristocratic colonel, a noble hero for his attempt to murder the Fuhrer and a valiant officer who faced his executioners with pride. Not only that, he had only one eye and one hand thanks to the Allies; Academy voters were traditionally drawn to actors playing people with disabilities.

The critical reception was mixed but the box-office flourished. The $83 million in the US was brought up to $200 million by strong foreign grosses: $11 million in Germany; $9 million in the UK and $12 million in Japan. It had been a bold decision against the current trend for comic-book films and it paid off.

Although a fourth Mission Impossible was in the works, Cruise felt Ethan Hunt's jumping about days might be slowing up and he needed a new running character to play. He knew it couldn't be a German with one eye and one arm who was, in any event, dead.

So Cruise acquired the rights to another, less agile action hero. This was retired Major Jack Reacher, thirteen years a military policeman, but now a loner who wanders the United States with a toothbrush in his pocket and a conscience to rectify injustice when he encounters it.

He is the creation of an English writer, Jim Grant, who began to write as Lee Childs and, amazingly, sixteen Jack Reacher books sprang from his laptop in consecutive years. By 2008 he topped the best-seller charts in both Britain and the US. "Almost retrospectively, what I realised with Reacher is that he's the same character who's always existed in fiction," Grant/Childs observed. "People say he's from American westerns, meaning he's a mysterious drifter who shows up unexplained in the nick of time, and I say yes, but that was merely a version itself of the old medieval figure, the knight errant."

Reacher is described in the books as being a giant, 6 feet 5, 250 pounds with dirty blond hair. Not quite typecasting for Tom. But Cruise's renewed power lies in his knack of choosing the right people. His masterstroke with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was to hire Brad Bird as director. Bird had only done animation before but brought a fresh, vaulting imagination to the live action. To begin the Jack Reacher series, Chris McQuarrie has been brought back as writer and director, not to turn Tom into Jack -- but to turn Jack into Tom. One Shot, the first installment in what all involved hope will be a long-running series, is set to hit theaters in February 2013.

Tom will be 50 on 3rd July this year, ten days before Harrison turns 70 and a month after Clint has turned 82. He's had his popularity dip. Hollywood has forgiven him. Now he's here to stay.

Iain Johnstone's 'Tom Cruise: All the World's a Stage' is on Kindle.