Five Reasons Not To Hate Tom Cruise

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Yes, we came up with five.

by Andrew Osborne

Yes, everyone experienced a severe case of douche chills when he jumped up and down on Oprah's couch. Plus, he seemed like an egomaniac (emphasis on the maniacin that creepy Scientology video, and most people suspect he's done something terrible to Katie Holmes. But I'm still seeing Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Because however exhausting he may be to deal with in real life, Tom Cruise is still a fascinating screen presence, for the following reasons.

1. He doesn't even try to disguise his own arrogance.

Part of what makes Tom Cruise so hateable is also what makes him such a fascinating screen presence — namely, the fact that he doesn't seem to care in the slightest if we think he's a total dick. Unlike, say, the pre-scandal Mel Gibson, who tried to balance his mad-dog rageaholic tendencies with a loveable scamp persona, most of Cruise's memorable screen creations are refreshingly unrepentant assholes. His pool hustler in The Color of Money is an immature show-off. Love for an autistic brother is pretty much the only redeeming quality of his yuppie scum character in Rain Man. Even his romantic role in Jerry Maguire ends with a hardball sales pitch: "I won't let you get rid of me!"

2. He's managed to keep his craziness from hurting his career.

There are stars like Mickey Rourke whose wild train-wreck energy makes it hard to look away from their raw performances, even when knowledge of their real-world struggles makes us feel like maybe we should. Yet, for all the rumors, tabloid stories, and public humiliations dogging his career, Cruise has remained on the A-list since his big underwear-dancing breakthrough in Risky Business. Given the bristling anger that seems to fuel the majority of his performances (most notably the raging misogynist Frank T.J. Mackey in 1999's Magnolia), you have to give the guy credit for keeping what may be some fairly nasty demons on a relatively tight leash.

3. He's one of the few bona-fide alpha males in Hollywood.

I'm a big fan of sensitive and/or offbeat leading men like Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogen. And I dig cocky B-list action stars like Jason Statham. But when a major motion picture needs an old-school dose of A-list testosterone and alpha-dog swagger, once you get past Cruise and maybe Will Smith, the options are pretty limited. George Clooney is too classy, Daniel Craig and Christian Bale are too sulky, Brad Pitt's too pretty, Matt Damon's too nice, Nic Cage is too crazy, and LaBeouf? Please. Maverick would have spiked him right in the face in that totally-not-gay shirtless Top Gun volleyball smackdown.

4. He's funny (and not just "funny strange").

Yes, it's easy to laugh at Tom Cruise when he's making some of his wilder Scientology claims or getting water sprayed in his face at a red-carpet event. But there have been plenty of times I've laughed with him, too, from his exasperated freak-out at Demi Moore in A Few Good Men to his bald-capped, fat-suited antics as studio gargoyle Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder. And there's even some (admittedly scanty) evidence that he may be able to laugh at himself, as in Eyes Wide Shut when people keep assuming (or hoping) his character is gay. (Though it's possible Cruise was just as oblivious to the meta-comedy of his scene with Alan Cumming as Charlton Heston was to the homoerotic subtext of Ben Hur.)

5. He's fearless (at least when it comes to ridiculous hair).

Assuming Cruise is fully aware of the whole "is he or isn't he?" question, it's remarkable that he chose to play Interview With The Vampire's Lestat, despite not being most people's idea of a golden-haired, polymorphously perverse bloodsucking fop. Given his macho leading-man persona, Cruise has shown an admirable willingness to mess with his image throughout his career. Moreover, he's apparently at peace with his fearless — and totally ridiculous — performance in Legend, since he hasn't used his seventh-level Thetan powers to eliminate all traces of it from existence. That makes him okay in my book.