Johnathan Last gives The Last Samurai a qualified thumbs-up in the Weekly Standard for "trying" to be a great picture. Since I haven't seen it, and won't because it stars Tom Cruise, I can't address the film on its own merits. What I can address, however, is Last's half-hearted defense of Cruise as movie star:
Though say what you will about Cruise, one fact remains: He's no Steve Guttenberg. Or Mark Harmon. Or Brad Pitt. Or any other of the disposable, pretty-boy movie stars who have crowded the multiplex on and off for 20 years. Tom Cruise is the leading man of his day and, all things considered, he's probably better than this generation of moviegoers deserves. (Historical footnote: In 2035, when the Thalberg awards are handed out and all is said and done, George Clooney will be considered the star of his generation, but that's then and this is now.)I'm sorry, but he's sure as hell not what I deserve; I can't possibly have been that evil. He is the disposable pretty boy of his generation, which Guttenberg and Harmon are not (who the hell thinks they're "pretty"?) As for Pitt, I can name at least two movies in which his performance was tolerable ("Thelma and Louise" and the somewhat limp remake of "Ocean's 11"), which is two more notches than I can count on Cruise's coup stick.
If you tour Cruise's filmography, you'll see an actor doing competent work in movies that are better than they have to be.I see a performer giving exactly the same performance, without variation, in every stinkin' film he's ever been in. He is himself in every movie, in the worst possible sense; I can never get the sense that he's anyone but TOM FUCKING CRUISE every moment he's on screen.
For every "Days of Thunder" there's a "Color of Money";You say that as though there were a qualitative difference between the two.
for every "Mission Impossible: 2" there's a "Minority Report."That's a sore point with me; a potentially great premise ruined by bad casting. His performance in every movie is the same. Minority Report is Cocktail is Risky Business; only the props and costars change.
His popcorn films are often mediocre ("The Firm") and even his prestige movies can be terrible ("Born on the Fourth of July," "Far and Away," "Eyes Wide Shut"). But if you do the numbers, he bats about .600 and hits to all fields with power ("Rain Man," "Top Gun," "Magnolia").You could easily replace Cruise in "Rainman" with any reasonably competent actor, or even a mediocre actor of Cruise's own caliber, and it would be essentially the same. Dustin Hoffman did all the heavy lifting (not that I necessarily agree "Rainman" is a good example of a base hit; it's more like a seeing-eye single than a double to the wall. "Top Gun" is an execrable piece of crap and I found "Magnolia" unwatchable. So by my count he's more Rey Ordonez than Alex Rodriguez.)
And above all else, with Tom Cruise you always get the sense that at least he's trying.And that's exactly what I have against him. When I watch a movie I don't want to see the wheels turning. With Tom Cruise I always feel like I have to supply half the lead performance.