It's OK, this noble Japanese warrior is actually an American.
Someone once described America as a large shaggy dog in
a small room. If its tail wagging knocked over a precious
vase then it was forgivable because its general intentions
were good. Right. So does that advocate a detachment of
overall responsibility? What if you lived in the vase?
the name of honor... In the face of battle...
In the heart of one man... Lives the soul of a warrior...
CRUISE... THE LAST SAMURAI
laughing. It's for real. And it's why I will not pay money
to see The Last Samurai, the first big
Hollywood movie for a long, long time whose marketing has
inadvertently turned me away. By the way, I would also decline
a free ticket.
those taglines had turned up on the satirical puppet show
of the 80s, Spittin' Image,
we'd still be on the floor clutching at our sides. There
are probably earlier examples of the multi-tagline examples
of film marketing. The Rambo series' third
outing shone brightly. If it has slipped your mind, the
poster for Rambo III was emblazoned with
a bandana clad Stallone (looking like a chronically depressed
first was for himself. The second for his country. This
time it's to save his friend."
forget the fact that the 2nd line makes no sense and all
three lines scan worse than a Kwik-Fit ad. It's that heavy
handed, over-ripe, earnest quality, so inviting for satirists
and yet so inexcusably beloved of Hollywood. Now which global
American movie star might fit that description?
Cruise' is no longer the Thomas Cruise Mapother IV his mother
dotes on. Let's be clear here. There is a very big distinction
between both Tom Cruises. There's Tom Cruise, the hard working
human being and 'Tom Cruise' the quintessential image of
what it is to be an American astride the multi-cultural
globe like some perfect giant espousing universal truth.
Well, it may be Universal's truth (or even Warner's or Fox's).
I know from a trusted personal source that the actual DNA-comprising,
human-being, Tom Cruise, is a generous, gregarious and entirely
focussed individual. Tom Cruise, though, is not 'Tom Cruise'.
The former works extremely hard to have fun and entertain
people albeit reported by too many sources a tad too earnestly.
Do any of you actually read Empire?
Cruise has the same DNA as us, the same number of legs and
fingers as us (if we've not strayed too far into the workings
of any factory machinery). He breathes the same air and
eats the same food. But through a series of life choices,
coincidences, luck and hard work he has become 'Tom Cruise',
an icon whose face is plastered across buildings from Norwich
to Nairobi almost guaranteeing a definition of entertainment
to be had and the global masses flock to it. Take a look
at that face in Coppola's The Outsiders.
With teeth uncapped, he's a very different Tom Cruise. But
that's what the American dentistry... my apologies. That's
what the American dream is all about. I'm the last one to
have not met the man but I suspect his marketing people
don't have to try too hard to buff up his mettle. The 'Tom
Cruise' is the brand name, the shining smile of ample wattage,
the shape of the face on the posters. If there were movies
in Roman times, 'Tom Cruise' would be the face sewn into
the pennants that rippled in the wind as much as the Centurions'
biceps. The face sells. The face sells 'Tom Cruise'. Whatever
piece of celluloid is attached to that face is largely immaterial.
It helps if the movie is in the action genre. Whaddya know?
The guy can out-fly an explosion. Mission Impossible,
indeed. It is no coincidence that the close up of Cruise's
head or upper torso has been the poster image of choice
for his last six or so movies. Let's not include Magnolia where he had a supporting part but all credit to the man,
he pulled off that nasty specimen of overt masculinity very
there again is the principal difference between the actor
and the star. The actor has to be convincing. The star has
to be the star. Did it matter if John Wayne wore a six-shooter
and a cowboy hat or a machine gun and marine fatigues? You
paid for John Wayne. If ever the man was convincing as anything
other than John Wayne, you'll find that the box office receipts
reflected the change. Spielberg's forays into "Please,
take me seriously as an artist?" territory also go
some way to fitting that template. Give us childlike awe
and we're with you, Stevey-baby. Be artistic, honorable
(sic) and noble and... well... Na, stick to the aliens.
does take commercial chances which is refreshing given that
if he sneezed, Hollywood would still make The Handkerchief...
the name of Double Stitching... At the heart of the Floral
One man had the Mucus... The Mucus of a Warrior.
that kind of works and that is why it's pervasive and persuasive.
By the way, 'warrior' is pronounced 'woyur' for some unfathomable
is a great story, possibly apocryphal, about another shaggy
dog, this time a movie (Beethoven's Second if anyone's at all interested). It was turned down for a
Children's Film Festival in what used to be Russia. The
American film-makers were aghast. "Why?" they
lamented. The Russian organisers replied that they had turned
it down on political grounds. "It's a shaggy dog movie!"
wailed the American producers. "Regardless of this,"
came the reply "every time a character opens the refrigerator
IT'S A POLITICAL STATEMENT!" (my capitals). That opened
a few doors in my head about how Americans are perceived
around the globe. When your principal cultural ambassador
is a man who can do impossible missions, fly jets with uncanny
skill and make both Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz love
you (in the same movie!) no wonder Uncle Sam's children
are regarded with such low esteem - that and George W. Bush.
man Tom Cruise notably champions directors and pours his
soul into his projects. This is admirable. But he's still
unconscionably American. There's not much he can do about
that. So when he makes The Last Samurai,
all I can think is that it will be generally believed in
his home country that Japan would have been perfect (Pearl
Harbor notwithstanding) if it had only had an American to give it credibility. Kurosawa is just a name to be brought
up as a reference to The Magnificent Seven?
Please. So the Samurai would be great if only... if only....
their fridges were full. Has The Last Samurai presented the Japanese in an artistically truthful way or
are they a backdrop for 'Tom Cruise' to 'get' nobility?
Don't ask me. I'm not going to see it.
Cruise' has become a human American fridge. He physically
represents what it is to be American but he is exploited
in countries and cultures where the American way no longer
has the same Nike-Levi reverence. Let's face it, with Bush
in command, the Americans are not the most loved people
on the planet right now. And Hollywood movies work the way
Bush's government is forcing their people to see things
- IN BLACK AND WHITE. There are precious few examples of
ambiguity in 'Tom Cruise''s movies. He is loved/adored no
matter what. The films are designed that way. Take one of
his most affecting roles as Jerry Maguire.
film acknowledges that to be a good guy in a world of bad,
you will be derided. Could anything else so neatly encapsulate
Bush and Blair's 'mission statement'? A man's gotta do what
a man's gotta do (as led they both are by God - Jesus Christ).
Maguire's own 'mission statement' (to sports' agents everywhere:
"Take fewer clients to serve them more personally,")
fires up a romance and the requisite life lessons. But again,
it's a perfect Hollywood movie. Cameron Crowe's screenplay
is erudite and clever without being overtly schmaltzy. And
it was huge, dollar-wise.
then the ultimate Hollywood question is: WHAT MAKES MOST
MONEY? If the current sure fire answer is 'Tom Cruise' then
fingers crossed for the real Tom Cruise. Can he pour some
of that singular power he has earned into projects that
are less culturally invasive or is he bound by his own abbreviated