#262. Tom Cruise

Say what you will about his personal life, be it the tabloid headline-inducing relationships or his involvement with Scientology, but Tom Cruise has been in a lot of movies. But what seems to be the unique element to his prolific career is the fact that most of his films were recognized as “Tom Cruise films” (i.e., films that star Tom Cruise). While his early career has had a few minor roles, and his later career also includes the occasional bit part (via cameo), most of Tom Cruise’s roles have been in the leading capacity for the majority of his career. Perhaps the genius of his unique personal life frequently making the headlines of grocery store checkout lines is how we are often reminded that he is starring in a new film sometime soon. This week’s two films highlight some of the varied work Tom Cruise has done on the big screen.

                                         Mission Impossible: Ghost ProtocolMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

Perhaps what has given Tom Cruise his success is two-fold: being cast by a lot of legendary directors and a knack for action films. Quite early in his career, he worked with Francis Ford Coppola on The Outsiders (1983), which no doubt opened the door for him working with Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money (1986)), Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men (1992)), Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut (1999)), Steven Spielberg (Minority Report (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005)), and J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III (2006)). While there are plenty of other directors who have tied Cruise into their movies, the theme that is often seen in a fair number of his roles is that he excels at action. One of his franchises that epitomizes this is the Mission: Impossible series. With five films under his belt as Ethan Hunt, this 20+ year franchise helped to get him where he is today.

Because of a semi-botched mission to extract some information from the Kremlin that resulted in the famous Russian building being destroyed, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team have been disavowed from the United States via the “Ghost Protocol.” Now it is up to them to find the perpetrator of the Kremlin bombing, a mysterious man who goes by the name of “Cobalt.” In their pursuit, the team finds that Cobalt is attempting to strike up a global war between the United States and Russia since his new target is to obtain Russian launch codes for their nuclear missiles. Intercepting the codes in Dubai, all the members of the IMF team are prepared to do what it takes to stop Cobalt. Unfortunately, as their plans begin to fail, it’s down to the wire to stop an incoming nuclear missile from detonating on San Francisco.

Rain ManRain Man
Year: 1988
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

While Cruise has proven he can go the distance for action films, he has also shown he can excel in dramas as well. In fact, his three nominations for an acting Oscar have been from dramas. Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire (1996), and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) gave him nominations from the Academy, but none of them earned him the coveted gold statue. That’s not to say these (and other) films haven’t won big at the Oscars. For instance, Rain Man (1988) ended up being the Best Picture for that year. Of course, once again the mark of famous directors is at play here, as many of Tom Cruise’s more dramatic roles have been in the films guided by the experienced hands of a skilled director. It’s no wonder Rain Man also won an Oscar for Best Director, Barry Levinson.

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is one of those fast-talking, deeply-in-debt scumbags who is always trying to break it big by dealing in less-than-exemplary deals. His recent deal quickly falling through places him many tens of thousands of dollars in debt, which is why he is pleased to hear his rich and estranged father has died. Unfortunately, none of the money of the estate is bequeathed to him. Instead, this money is willed to a mental institution where Charlie finds he has a heretofore unknown older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Raymond is severely autistic, but also has the qualities of a savant that Charlie tries to exploit to make money in Las Vegas counting cards. While Raymond’s strict routines stress the brothers’ relationship, they eventually grow close enough that Charlie no longer cares about the money and would rather have a brother than be rich.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 classic Cruise roles

Bacon #: 1 (A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)

#222. Adjusted Timelines

If there’s one theme in fiction that is difficult to do well, it’s time travel. Fortunately, some of the best film franchises have shown us this theme is doable. What brings difficulty to the time travel theme is continuity. When things are being changed in the past, the future is equally affected. We’ve seen from films like Back to the Future (1985) and The Terminator (1984) that traveling to the past can have disastrous consequences unless the main characters fight to maintain the continuity. The interesting aspects of the time travel theme come when a timeline is adjusted to produce a more beneficial outcome. These altered timelines almost insist that traveling to the past is necessary to fix the problems of the future before they even begin. This week’s two films are great examples of time travel being used to adjust a timeline.

Source CodeSource Code
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

One of the “adjusted timeline” forms is that of the repeating loop. This form will continuously run the same sequence of events until a key set of criteria is met, at which point the timeline continues on its now-adjusted path. The best example of this is Groundhog Day (1993), which can then be used to describe similar movies. For instance, Edge of Tomorrow (2014) could be described as “Groundhog D-Day.” The lynchpin of the repeating loop plot is that the main character can make changes to the timeline, but these changes are erased each time the timeline resets. As such, the main character must learn as much as they can in each iteration of the timeline so they can make the necessary changes needed to escape the infinite loop. If anything, the repeating loop form is the most forgiving of the adjusted timeline plots in that it gives the main character multiple tries to arrive at the most optimum timeline.

The repeating loop of Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the last eight minutes of the life of Sean Fentress, a school teacher traveling on a train to Chicago. Captain Stevens was found to be compatible with Fentress and is now a part of the “Source Code” device in an attempt to gather information about a larger terrorist attack about to hit Chicago. With each eight-minute loop, Stevens watches as the train explodes, killing everyone on board. He is helpless to stop the explosion, as the Source Code only allows him to glean information, not change these past events which are already set in stone. However, as he learns from his surroundings and pieces together a plan, Stevens manages to push the limits of the system, saving the people on the train and adjusting his timeline to one that does not confine him to the realm of his imagination.

Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Unlike the repeating loop form of the adjusted timeline, most time travel stories give their protagonist only one attempt to change the fate of the world. While films like Donnie Darko (2001) and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) (both of which star the aforementioned Source Code actor, Jake Gyllenhaal) do loop back upon themselves, the ability to repeat that loop is limited to a single iteration. That being said, the effects of adjusting the past are often not seen until a return to the future. Very few films examine the small alterations to the timeline in real-time. The Butterfly Effect (2004) came close with repeated trips into the past to change future events. Similarly, About Time (2013) takes this approach in a more comedic sense, but without an immediate result evident to the audience. The one film that has managed to show the realized effects of changing the past as they happen would have to be Looper (2012).

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) earns his living as a hitman known as a “looper.” All he has to do is wait for a target to be sent back in time and shoot said target upon their appearance. His reward for this task is a set of silver bars, delivered with the target. If he were to kill a target with gold bars, he would have just killed himself, the gold bars being payment for the termination of his employment. However, he doesn’t get a chance to use these gold bars, as his future self (Bruce Willis) manages to escape before he is killed. Now it’s up to the younger Joe to make sure his older self does not kill the child who will eventually grow up to become the “Rainmaker,” the usurper of five major crime syndicates who is “closing the loop” of many loopers. As the two singular men find the child, young Joe discovers that the events of his interference will create the Rainmaker in the future. He has only one option to prevent it.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 tweaked timelines